5 things: Erik van Rooyen hot in Mexico once again, leads Mexico Open at Vidanta over cousin of NHL player

The Mexico Open at Vidanta may not have the high-profile leaderboard as some other PGA Tour events, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great storylines coming out of Vidanta Vallarta.

Defending champion Tony Finau is looking to go back-to-back south of the border. Raving about a place where he can play a par-3 course with his kids, Finau, the highest-ranked player in the field, is looking to win on Tour for the fourth season in a row.

He had four birdies in his first-round 69, but did post a double-bogey on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-to-last of the day.

Four golfers defended their title last season. Finau is seeking to be the first to do it in 2024. He was solo second two years ago, losing by a shot to Jon Rahm.

Mexico Open: Photo gallery

After a few weeks of wind and rain, the Tour is enjoying some fantastic weather along the Mexican coast. Here are five more things to know about the first round of the 2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta.

Back-to-back in Mexico for van Rooyen?

2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta
Erik van Rooyen reacts to his putt on the 13th hole during the first round of the 2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

Erik van Rooyen won at Tiger Woods’ El Cardonal at Diamante in Los Cabos in November, the Tour’s most recent visit to Mexico before this week.

On Thursday, a day after his 34th birthday, he made an early move towards a second straight win south of the border.

Playing in the afternoon wave, it only took van Rooyen nine holes to catch the leaders. After opening with back-to-back pars, van Rooyen had four birdes and an eagle over his next seven holes. On the 12th hole, he chipped in from across the green for his second eagle of the day and take a two-shot lead at 8 under.

There are three par-5s on the back nine and while he parred the 14th, he birdied the 18th to go 5 under on the day on the par 5s.

“Two eagles is pretty rare, right? It doesn’t happen that often. If you can do that and you can kind of capitalize on the rest of the round, you’re going to have 8 under like I did today, so that was obviously nice,” he said.

He missed just two greens and needed 28 putts en route to a 63.

Cousin of NHL standout is a shot back

2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta
Sami Valimaki chips on the fourth green during the first round of the 2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta. (Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Sami Valimaki turned pro in 2019 and later represented Finland in the 2021 Olympics. He made his PGA Tour debut at the U.S. Open in 2020. He earned a 2024 PGA Tour card after finishing in the top 10 in the season-ending Race to Dubai on the DP World Tour.

Two weeks ago, he Monday qualified then made the cut at the WM Phoenix Open before finishing 41st. That event was special for him because he got to catch up with his cousin, Juuso Valimaki, a defenseman for the Arizona Coyotes.

With both being professionals in their respective sports, it’s a rare occurrence for them to find the time to see each other.

“He has to go this far from Finland for time to hang out because the summers are always so busy for the both of us. We’ve never really had too much time, so we’ve actually had a lot of fun hanging out,” Juuso said.

Sami’s round on Thursday must have been fun, too. One of the last golfers on the course, he started on the back nine and made five birdies on his front nine to make the turn in 31. He had a birdie, a bogey and a hole-out eagle on the par-4 seventh hole before two pars to sign for a 64, tying his best score in 2024, which was the final round two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale.

Mr. 57 goes low in morning wave

2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta
Cristobal Del Solar putts on the ninth hole during the first round of the 2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta. (Photo: Fernando de Dios/Getty Images)

Cristobal Del Solar went crazy low on the Korn Ferry Tour two weeks ago with the first-ever 57 in a PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament. His feat got knocked down by some because he did it on a course that was playing 6,254 yards at a 9,000-foot elevation.

This week, he’s playing a course that’s rated 33rd in difficulty (out 58) on the PGA Tour a year ago but also the lone non-major course that featured two holes on the PGA Tour’s list of most difficult holes from the 2022-23 season, the par-4 10th hole and the par-3 17th.

Del Solar shot a 65 in his first time around the course this week, starting with a birdie on that 10th hole, as he played the back nine first. He birdied the 11th as well and went on to post seven birdies in all with just one bogey.

After his round Thursday, he was still getting questions about his 57.

“First of all, I didn’t even know it was history until I finished the round,” he said. “I was hitting the ball great, putting myself in really good positions and making putts. I guess that’s how you shoot 57.”

Seeking a win on a fifth tour

2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta
David Lipsky plays his shot from the fifth tee during the first round of the 2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta at Vidanta Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico. (Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

David Lipsky has been around.

The 35-year-old has professional wins on the Asian Tour, the Sunshine Tour, the DP World Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour but not yet on the PGA Tour. Like Del Solar, Lipsky posted an opening 65, his scorecard featuring nine birdies. He did have three bogeys along the way but he did have five birdies over his closing six holes.

He says his hot putter was the key Thursday.

“I can’t remember the last time I made that many, that footage in putts in a given round,” he said. “Felt like I was due. I feel like I’ve been putting pretty nicely and sometimes they just drop for you.”

Lipsky made made 181 feet worth of putts and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Putting over the first 18 holes. That included a 33-footer for birdie on No. 15 and a 67-footer for birdie on the 17th hole.

Henrik Nolander was also tied for the lead after the morning wave. He opened with a bogey but starting on No. 7 he had five birdies over his next 11 holes before closing with an eagle on the ninth. MJ Daffue joined the 6 under gang late in the day when he, too, posted a 65.

LAAC champ among Mexican contingent

2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta
Santiago De la Fuente walks on the 18th hole during the first round of the 2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta. (Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

There are eight Mexicans in the field, including Raul Pereda, a rookie who earned his PGA Tour card in Q School. The seven are there on sponsor exemptions, including Latin America Amateur Championship winner Santiago De La Fuente, who qualified for three majors in 2024 with that victory.

De La Fuente had the best Thursday, posting a 4-under 67 that featured six birdies to get him into a T-15 with six others.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek