With a shot holed out from the fairway for an eagle and another chip into the cup to save a precious par, Bo Van Pelt opened a one-shot lead after the first round of the AT&T National Thursday at steamy Congressional Country Club, where the heat is definitely on.
Temperatures are expected to keep rising into the high 90s over the remaining three days of the tournament, a year after the golf course also hosted the rain-soaked 2011 U.S. Open. Van Pelt opened that tournament with a round of 76 but rallied to get back to a tie for 14th, and said after his first round this week the course is surely playing more difficult now than it did a year ago.
Thats all you want out there right now for sure, said Van Pelt on a day when Congressional only yielded 22 sub-par rounds from the invitational field of 120 players. Jimmy Walker, who bogeyed his final hole when he missed a five-foot par-saving putt, was tied for second with veteran Vijay Singh and Virginia Tech graduate Brenden De Jonge, all at three-under 68.
The surprise name on a leader board that definitely did not include Tiger Woods (one-over 72), the tournaments host, was Billy Hurley III. The Leesburg native and Naval Academy graduate posted a two-under 69, leaving him tied for fifth at two-under 69.
Hurley had played his opening 17 holes without a bogey, but could not avoid one at his final hole, the 636-yard No. 9, when his wayward drive hit a tree and bounced over to the rough on the nearby fourth. He managed to loft a wedge over several tall trees to get back to the proper hole but laid up on his third shot. His fourth left him an 18-foot putt to save his par, but he was unable to convert.
Still, the 30-year-old who makes his home in Annapolis had few complaints about his day, not with so many friends and family pulling for him in the gallery.
Any time you play well, its fun, he said. But this is a heck of a golf course. You have to hit a lot of quality shots that end up with not a good look at birdie sometimes. I was patient out there, made a couple of putts early and then muddled it around and didnt make anything.
Hurley was paired in a group that included 17-year-old Beau Hossler, the high school senior-to-be from Mission Viejo, Cal., who became the darling of the U.S. Open galleries two weeks ago at Olympic in San Francisco when he trailed the lead by only four shots after 54 holes. He posted 76 in the final round that week and tied for 29th place, but his performance earned him a sponsors exemption here this week on the recommendation of Woods himself.
Hossler more than held his own Thursday. He was one-under going into his final hole, the ninth, but his three-foot putt to save par just caught the edge of the lip and spun out, leaving him with a three-putt bogey and an even-par total of 71, despite making four birdies.
I hit a lot of good shots (but) the ball seemed to be going a little bit longer than normal, so I was air-mailing some pins, he said. I had some great up-and-downs, but youve got to go out there and keep the ball below the hole, especially on this golf course, when the greens are this fast and.
As for the teenagers comfort level, not a problem.
Im starting to feel pretty comfortable out here, said Hossler, who played in the Open at Congressional a year ago at age 16 but missed the cut. Obviously my game needs to get better before Im out here all the time, but (it) feels like I can make the adjustment from junior to amateur to professional golf. Obviously I need to get more comfortable as the tournaments go on, but I feel like Ive made some progress.
Woods mostly felt frustrated with his round of one-over 72, leaving him tied for 30th place.
He was fortunate to post that score because he got a huge break on the difficult 11th hole when his tee shot hit a rock in a stream bank and caromed off into the rough instead of the water. He still made bogey there, made an 18-footer for birdie at the 14th and was fortunate to escape with one last bogey at the 15th.
From the middle of the fairway, he hit his second shot in the bunker at the 490-yard par 4, hit a weak sand shot that landed on the fringe, followed by a poor chip that left him with a tough eight-foot putt to save his bogey. He made the putt to avoid further disaster and parred in to stay within five shots of the lead.
I didnt hit it that bad today, Woods said. I just didnt get a lot out of my roundIts a pretty good grind out there. Not a lot of low scores on this golf course, especially this afternoon. It was baked out, the ball was springy and its hard to believe that four-under is leading.
A year ago, Rory McIlroy scorched the course with a record 16-under total to win his first Open title.
I think (Thursday) is a little retribution for last year, Woods said. Dont be mad at me. I didnt play.