BOCA RATON, Fla. — There were a lot of puzzled looks in Friday’s first round of the TimberTech Championship.
Gusty winds and unfamiliar Bermuda greens conspired to frustrate the best players on the PGA Tour Champions.
For a change on the 50-and-older circuit, they weren’t playing limbo.
How low can you go?
Only six of 51 players shot in the 60s, with Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez finishing with four consecutive birdies to lead with a 5-under 67. Jimenez, who made a 30-footer on the 18th hole, leads by one over 2015 TimberTech Championship winner Paul Goydos and Rod Pampling.
“It was a beautiful finish,” said Jimenez, who tied for second behind Steven Alker in last year’s TimberTech Championship and has 13 career PGA Tour Champions wins. “I made some nice shots and a great putt on the last hole.”
The 67 was the highest score to lead after the first round in the 16-year history of the TimberTech Championship. The first 15 events were held at Broken Sound before moving to Royal Palm this year because the Old Course is being renovated.
Goydos said the major reason for the field’s struggles, besides the 20-mph wind, was this is the first time the players have seen Royal Palm in tournament conditions.
“It’s funny, normally I would say that that’s an overtalked-about issue,” Goydos said of unfamiliarity. “My job is to play a practice round and two pro-ams. If can’t figure the golf course out in three rounds, that’s problematic.
Scott McCarron lines up his putt on the 18th hole during the first round of the TimberTech Championship at the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club in Boca Raton, FL. Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. (Jim Rassol/Palm Beach Post)
“Having said that, I think guys are struggling reading the greens, myself included. They’re not easy to read and I think this is one of the few exceptions to that concept. They are a little more difficult.”
Jimenez wasn’t the only player to finish strong. Pampling, who has won once on the 50-and-older circuit, closed with three birdies.
Pampling echoed Goydos’ thoughts about needing time to get familiarized with Royal Palm, an original Robert Trent Jones layout in the 1960s that was renovated by Jack Nicklaus in 2003 and updated in 2014.
“I think we get enough to see (in) the practice rounds, but we don’t see the pins, so we’re playing to the middle of the green,” Pampling said. “Now I think they’ll get lower as the week goes on. There’s definitely a visual that comes into play and once you get one or two days under your belt, you sort of can get after it after that.”
The only other players to break 70 Friday were Scott McCarron, Tom Pernice Jr. and Robert Karlsson, who each shot 69s. The field average was 72.3.
Alker, the defending champion, overcame a double bogey on the par-3 15th hole to shoot 2-under 70 and tie for seventh with 10 players, including World Golf Hall of Famers Bernhard Langer of Boca Raton and Colin Montgomerie and former major champions Retief Goosen and David Toms.
Langer has feasted on the TimberTech Championship; he’s the only player to win twice and has earned almost $1.4 million in 14 starts. He was 1-over through 15 holes Friday before rescuing his round with three closing birdies.
“Played pretty good all day,” Langer said. “Hit a couple of loose shots early on and paid the price immediately. The wind made it harder today. The greens are rather difficult for some of us to read; they’re a little grainy, changing directions, and I haven’t been putting great on them yet, so try to figure it out.”
McCarron, who won the 2017 TimberTech Championship, was the last player to get in this year’s field at No. 54 on the Charles Schwab Cup Playoff points list.
He knows what he has to do to be among the 36 players to advance to next week’s Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.
“I know I have to win,” McCarron said. “I’m all in until I’m all out.”
They’re all chasing Jimenez after 18 holes. He did have a beautiful finish Friday, but 36 holes are left. The winds will remain, and so will the puzzled looks.