It was a historical day at the famed Colonial Country Club as the PGA Tour returned to action for the first time in 91 days with the opening round of the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas.
This is the first of five PGA Tour events to be played with no fans as they restart following the pause due to the COVID19 pandemic.
The greatest field in tournament history featured all top five players in the world on hand, but the two players atop the stacked leader board at the conclusion of round one were Justin Rose and Harold Varner III.
Rose, the 2018 Colonial champion, set the pace early as he was 7-under through 11 holes en route to a first round 63.
“No one quite knows where their tournament game is,” Rose said. “I think for me we’re delighted for the way it kicked into gear today, especially short game, putting, some of the stuff that is hard to practice without some pressure, and I think for me the key was getting off to a good start.”
Varner III, who missed the cut in his only other trip to Colonial in 2017, hit all 18 greens in regulation at the Charles Schwab Challenge on his way to firing a 63 and a share of the first round lead. He joins Tiger Woods in 1997 and Kris Blanks in 2019 as the only golfers in the last 25 years to hit all 18 greens in regulation according to golfchannel.com.
“Just super solid,’ Varner III said. “Obviously just hit 18 greens, but good to be back inside the ropes and just doing what I love to do, play golf and have fun. I’m pretty good at those two things, and they came together pretty well today.”
No. 4 ranked Justin Thomas is making his Colonial debut and he currently sits one shot back after a first round 64 while no fans were on the property.
“It’s just weird, you make putts, you’re kind of sometimes able to feed off of the crowd,” Thomas said. “I’ve never been here so I don’t know what the big holes are. It looks like 13 and 16 are holes where probably a lot of people gather around, but yeah, it’s just definitely different, but it sure beats being on the couch at home.”
Thomas is joined at 6-under by Collin Morikowa, Jhonattan Vegas and Abraham Ancer.
2016 Colonial champion Jordan Spieth rebounded from an opening bogey to shoot 65 and sits two shots out of the lead.
“It was a tale of two nines for me. 1-over through 2, it’s not an ideal start when you head into the horrible horseshoe (3,4 and 5),” Spieth said. “Once I got through six holes I hit a lot of really good shots after that.”
U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele and 1996 Colonial champion TOm Lehman are among the group that also sits at 5-under.
The top three players in the world rankings (Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka) were paired together in the afternoon as one of the marquee groups.
McIlroy is making his Colonial debut and never really got any momentum going on his way to a 2-under finish that has the No. 1 player in the world sitting in a tie for 39th.
“Uneventful. I didn’t really — I made three birdies and one bogey,” McIlroy said. “It was one of those days. I put myself in position to shoot a low score, I just didn’t capitalize on how I hit it off the tee.”
Koepka, who finished runner-up to Rose in 2018 in his only other Colonial appearance, joins McIlroy in a tie for 39th at 2-under.
It felt good just to be back playing, but as far as how I played, it was a getting-along round,” Koepka said. “Nothing to get too excited about, nothing to get disappointed about.”
Rahm came in at 1-under following a bogey on No. 18.
Defending champion Kevin Na is 2-over and currently sits in a tie for 110th.
Sung Kang made a ace on the 13th hole with a 9-iron, albeit without the thousands of fans that usually envelope the Colonial’s famous par-3 over water.
“We were like 50 yards away, and they were like, it’s in the hole,” Kang said. “I’m like, wow, it’s in the hole. It wasn’t really crazy. Nobody was really up there, only a few people out there just clapping a little bit. I still appreciated it, though.”
In addition to the all of the top ranked players in the field, two-time Colonial champion Phil Mickelson is in the field for only the second time since 2010. He is currently ranked No. 61 in the world and will soon turn 50, but were fans allowed to attend, Mickelson certainly would have drawn a huge gallery while playing alongside Woodland and Na.
“It’s certainly awkward not having everybody out here,” Mickelson said. “But I’m certainly proud of the steps the PGA TOUR has taken to have everybody be safe, feel safe in this environment and to hopefully entertain and have some people watching on TV even though they’re not here.”