WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Mason Williams was hoping he wouldn’t be too nervous for Thursday’s debut on the PGA Tour at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
“It was kind of cool before the round, because there were so many people back there that I knew,” Williams said. “I didn’t get too freaked out.”
Then came time for Williams to tee off, and he got to the 10th hole to begin his round at 2:15 p.m.
“As soon as my name was announced and I heard Bridgeport, West Virginia, I’m thinking, ‘man we’re actually doing this thing,’” Williams said. “Nerves must have set in, because I hit a terrible tee shot way left.”
Williams went on to make a bogey, the start of a struggle on the back nine that he finished with a 5-over par 41. But the sophomore from Georgia Southern turned things around and them some on a bogey free front nine that led to a round of 73.
Williams, who qualified to play by winning the West Virginia Amateur in August, made a birdie on No. 4 and finished his round making a 15-footer for birdie on No. 9.
“We had so much fun out there today,” Williams said. “A bad stretch from 15-18 and I don’t really know what that was — nerves I guess. But I got settled into the round and hit it 100 percent better on the front.”
Williams knows he’ll likely need a round of 66 or better Friday to have a chance at making the cut and hopes the momentum from Thursday’s finish carries over. He’ll tee off at 9:15 a.m.
“We’re just going to shoot lowest round we can,” he said. “The finish today helped a lot. If a couple putts fall, we could’ve shot something better. I expect to play well tomorrow. We’ll get fresh greens on the front.”
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Defending champion Kevin Na got off to just the start he desired with an opening round 64.
“I hit a lot of good shots and made some good putts. I gave myself plenty of opportunities,” Na said. “The greens were getting a little crusty at the end and a little firm. But I was able to hit some nice iron shots in there.”
At 6-under par, Na is tied for second and could make a move on leader Robby Shelton with a 7:55 a.m. tee time Friday.
“I don’t know what the weather is going to be like tomorrow, but when the greens are getting firm in the afternoon it’s always a little tougher,” Na said. “But when you’re playing well and you hit good shots, it doesn’t make as much of a difference.“
Dating back to last year’s tournament, over Na’s last four rounds at The Greenbrier, he’s averaging a 64 and hasn’t shot higher than 65.
“I have a lot of good memories here,” Na said. “I’m happy to be back and it’s nice to see my picture up on the wall and have my own defending champion locker.”
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One day after being named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Sungjae Im debuted at Old White TPC with a 66.
The highlight of Im’s round came when he made a hole-in-one on the difficult 233-yard par 3 15th hole.
It took him to 3-under par for the round and Im ended the day with a birdie on the par 3 18th to move to within four shots of the lead.
Im was the only player to record an ace Thursday.
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Playing alongside Na, Bubba Watson fired a 1-under 69 that left him tied for 73rd.
“It was a good day. I haven’t played competitively for about a month,” Watson said. “I thought I hit the ball really nicely. Just couldn’t get the ball in the hole and then watching Kevin make all the putts, it’s like save some for us.
“It was one of those days I’m very pleased with, but then when I look at the score I’m not as happy. I couldn’t ask for better ball striking. A couple miss clubs here and there just because the wind was so gusty today. Once second it was down wind, one second it was into the wind. It was a good day for a tough test.”
With an early tee time Friday, Watson hopes to make a move up the leaderboard to ensure he sticks around for the weekend.
“Early morning, less wind, softer greens and softer conditions,” Watson said. “Hopefully you’ll be able to hit it a little closer and make a few putts.”