NASSAU, Bahamas – Daniel Berger didn’t need to knock any rust off his clubs.
Instead, he knocked par upside its head.
Playing for the first time since the Ryder Cup in September, the world No. 17 and winner of four PGA Tour titles birdied the first four holes and put his signature to a 6-under-par 66 in Thursday’s first round of the Hero World Challenge at sun-splashed Albany Golf Club.
Earlier in the week, Berger said he started his long break by spending two weeks on his couch, then two weeks in the pool, and then two weeks on his boat before he picked up a golf club again.
“It was a little scary taking over a month off (without touching a club) because I haven’t done that in a while, wondering if you’re going to come back and still have it,” said Berger, who made six birdies and an eagle. “But mentally and physically I needed the break. I just wasn’t ready to play.”
He sure was ready in the Hero, happy with almost everything he did in the first round. His most difficult task, it seemed, was getting around the golf course.
“In the pro‑am, I hadn’t walked in like over a month and a half and that was the hardest part today, was just putting one foot in front of the other and getting to the shot,” he said.
In a field where 17 of the 20 players are ranked in the top 25 in the world, Berger positioned himself on the first page of the leaderboard with Abraham Ancer (66) as the clubhouse leaders. Despite the layoff, Berger wasn’t surprised with his play.
“The last 10 days I played every day and I’ve been playing really nicely,” he said. “I hit the ball really bad for the first two weeks and slowly started to get back into it. Saw my coach, he flew down and things started to ramp up pretty quickly and I kind of dialed it in from there.
“It’s just tough when you haven’t played competitively to kind of get back in the rhythm of things, but I got off to a good start and that made it easier. I was a little nervous on the first tee, which was surprising since this is my 150th start on Tour. But obviously, four birdies in the first four holes helps with the confidence.”
Berger, who won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year, will enter 2022 without a FedEx Cup point. But he has no regrets not playing any tournaments in the fall.
Daniel Berger poses with the winner’s trophy after the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)
“I think you have to listen to your body, and you have to listen to how you feel mentally,” said Berger, who was 2-1-0 in the Ryder Cup the last time he played competitively. “The Ryder Cup was grueling, and it took so much out of me physically and emotionally that I just didn’t feel I could go to a golf tournament to prepare the way I wanted to, to the best of my ability.
“So for me it was the only decision to make.”
Seems to be the right one so far.