COMMENTARY | It's said often on the PGA Tour that it's hard to follow up one low score with another.
Keegan Bradley was a couple of strokes away from going as low as has ever been seen on the PGA Tour, shooting 10-under 60 to take the Round 1 lead in the HP Byron Nelson Championship. The 2011 champion's Thursday score was great, but will he be able to see that hot start through to a fourth PGA Tour title? Looking at history, as the Magic 8-Ball would say, signs point to no.
Before Bradley notched 60 on Thursday, there had been 32 rounds of 60 or lower on the PGA Tour. Six of those came in the first round. Of those six players, half won that week, half did not.
The three that did all began with 60: Mike Souchak in the 1955 Texas Open, Steve Stricker in the 2010 John Deere Classic and Phil Mickelson in February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Paul Goydos, who shot 59 on the same day at the John Deere Classic as Stricker's 60, Justin Rose at Disney in Disney and Pat Perez at the Bob Hope, both in 2006, did not win.
This season, a pair of players also took it pretty deep in the first round. Neither won.
Scott Langley shot 8-under 62 to kick off the Sony Open in Hawaii. Rookie Russell Henley won that week with a final-round putting clinic for the ages. Langely finished tied for third place, but was seven behind the University of Georgia product.
Long-hitting Jason Kokrak opened the Humana Challenge (erstwhile the Hope) the week after the Sony Open with 9-under 63. He finished T-5, out of the playoff with Charles Howell III, David Lingmerth and eventual winner Brian Gay by three shots.
Going low in any PGA Tour round certainly goes a long way in adding an extra zero or three to a player's paycheck for the week, but it does not guarantee a win by any stretch.
More often than not, the player that is most consistent over four rounds is the one that will win. Bradley's three wins are largely demonstrative of that truth. In the 12 rounds over that trio of tournaments, the New England native broke 67 twice -- a 66 to open the Nelson he won in 2011 and a closing 64 to catch and pass Jim Furyk on the 72nd hole of last year's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
After his Thursday 60, Bradley said everything had to go right to post that score.
"It was rare to match up a ball-striking day and make everything. ... It happened today," Bradley said. "The hole looked huge. Even the putts I missed almost went in."
It can be profitable to be that kind of unconscious for 18 holes on the PGA Tour, but the best and most successful in the game say that they are at their best when they focus completely on one shot at a time.
Steve Stricker, after shooting 60 at TPC Deere Run three years ago, followed it up with 66 at a tournament where birdies are a must. He echoed the importance of not thinking too far ahead, especially to the trophy presentation, after going low.
"I just really have been very good at taking one shot at a time, one hole at a time and not really getting too far ahead," he said after Round 2 of the Deere in 2010. "I'll just continue to do the same thing."
Phil Mickelson may have best expressed the change in mindset that needs to happen after opening with an eye-popping score.
"The difference is that in the tournament on Sunday when you're trying to win, you're worried about what everybody else is doing, you're looking at your lead and so forth," Mickelson said after his starting 60 in Phoenix in February, "and here there's still three more rounds to go and the last thing I'm worried about is what other guys are doing, I'm only worrying about making that birdie to shoot 59."
That psyche suggests the first round is the easiest -- in relative terms -- to go low. The tournament isn't on the line; a player only has to concern themselves with the numbers on their scorecard. As the week progresses, however, a player becomes more cognizant of the entire field. Meanwhile, a low Day 1 number puts a target on a their back.
Bradley has a three-shot edge over Charl Schwartzel heading into the second round on Friday, but will have to play another 54 holes of outstanding golf if he intends to win for the third consecutive season. He is in great shape to win at TPC Four Seasons for the second time in three years, but now, the hunt is on.
Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBallengee.
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