Birdie blitz as pros tame Port Royal in Butterfield Bermuda Championship
Port Royal Golf Course laid out the welcome mat to touring pros on the opening day of the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, allowing a number of those not normally accustomed to being high up on the leaderboard at PGA Tour events a broad sense of comfort.
Birdies came with regularity as the course threw up little defence against top-class professionals peppering the flags in calm conditions and the standard was set immediately when unheralded Austin Smotherman posted a sizzling, early-morning 62 after setting out in only the second group.
Smotherman’s day included a birdie binge on holes 4 to 7, sandwiched between birdies on 2 and 9 to get to six under at the turn. He birdied 15, the hardest hole on the course, before capping a flawless round with birdies on 17 and 18.
A professional for six years after graduating from Southern Methodist University, Smotherman’s previous low round for the year was 65, but as well as he played, he insists he left some out there.
He said: “I kind of got away with some misses today, so even sharper off the tee, I think I could have hit it a little bit better.”
Smotherman was not the only one going low as just ten players finished their round worse than level par, but it was only late in the day that he was joined for the lead by Harrison Endycott, who came back from consecutive bogeys on his first two holes of the day to top the leaderboard.
In just his fourth tournament in his rookie season on tour, he showed great character to make changes after his past.
“It was great, I can’t remember the last time I had a couple eagles, two in a round, and I just hit some really good-quality shots out there,” Endycott said.
“I don’t think we’re going to get too many rounds this week where there’s no wind, but I’m just taking it day by day and looking forward to getting at it tomorrow morning.”
Indian Arjun Atwal has overcome the death of his father recently and had not played a tournament for three months before heading to Bermuda as an alternate, but he went from the breakfast table to the 1st tee 20 minutes after he was called into the field as a replacement for American Tommy Gainey
Having little time to think obviously worked well for Atwal, who is a ten-times winner on the PGA and European tours, and he sits just a shot off the lead after a round that included nine birdies.
With eight players at seven under, a further 12 contenders at six under, and a whole host of players just four shots off the lead, the stage is set fair for a competitive week, but some of the bigger names in the field have their work cut out if they are to make it into the weekend.
Europe Ryder Cup captain and former world No 1 Luke Donald finished his round at level par with bogeys on the 17th and 18th damaging his chances.
The biggest crowd-puller of the event, John Daly, was entitled to use a golf cart on the course after successfully applying for a disability exemption with osteoarthritis but he drove away from his final hole disappointed with his level-par finish.
While low scores were the order of the day yesterday, conditions today could take a nasty turn with winds scheduled to be at about 15mph and thunderstorms forecast.
That could make the back nine much less accommodating and far more of a test.