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Last week, Sepp Straka missed the cut in the 3M Open in Minnesota.
On Thursday, he tied an Olympic record.
Straka, who in fact missed six of his last seven cuts before heading to Japan to represent Austria in the Tokyo Summer Games, shot a bogey-free, 8-under 63 to grab the clubhouse lead in the first round of the men’s golf competition.
With his twin brother, Sam, on the bag, Straka took advantage of ideal scoring conditions and wrote nine 3s on his scorecard at the East Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama, about 35 miles northwest of downtown Tokyo.
Straka’s 63 tied the lowest round shot in the Olympics. Matt Kuchar of the U.S. and Marcus Fraser of Australia each shot 63 in the 2016 Rio Games when golf returned to the Olympics for the first time in more than a century.
Straka lipped out his birdie attempt on the last that would have set the record.
“That’s special,” Straka said when he was told he tied the record.
So was his round.
Straka didn’t have a 5 on his card as he roughed up the East Course softened by overnight rains and ruled on the pristine greens. While the heat was in the 90-degree range, the winds were in the 2-mph range and only five of the 60 players in the field were over par midway through the first day.
Straka said he was getting too technical with his putting, so he simplified his routine by limiting his practice strokes and putting more by feel. Sure worked.
“I hadn’t played great over on the PGA Tour the last few weeks, but my putting was really the reason and I just switched up my routine on my putting and it’s worked out,” he said. “It was just a steady round. I really hit the ball well. I didn’t put myself into trouble and the putter was pretty hot today.
“I felt like my game was in a pretty good spot. Those first few weeks before Travelers when I missed the cut my irons were bad, but my short game was really good. So, I worked on my irons a lot and then my short game got bad. So that’s when I missed the last couple cuts. But just changed my putting routine up a little bit and it worked really well, and my irons have been pretty good the last few weeks, so I felt pretty good about my game.”
Among the early finishers, Straka leads by two shots. At 65 were Carlos Ortiz of Mexico and Thomas Pieters of Belgium, who was fourth in the Rio Games in 2016.
The U.S.’s Xander Schauffele got off to a slow start and ended with a bogey en route to a 68 and Justin Thomas couldn’t buy a putt and didn’t make a birdie to shoot 71. Reigning British Open champion Collin Morikawa was 2 under through 11 holes and Patrick Reed was 4 under through 10 holes.
Among the best scores of those still on the course included Viktor Hovland of Norway (5 under through 11) and Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand (6 under through 13).
Pieters had been under the weather leading into the tournament and didn’t feel great when he got up for the first round. But his health improved when he got to the course and then when his scorecard filled up with circles.
“Didn’t play my way out of the tournament the first day, so that’s good. I was not in good ways yesterday, so I kind of didn’t expect this today,” he said. “I felt horrible this morning even when I woke up, so but maybe it’s just because I was thinking about bad shots or places not to hit it, I was just my caddie told me hit it there and I did it and that was, I kept it simple.
“When you get to the course and you realize this is like once every four or five years, it hits you every time. I’m a bit better, yeah.”
So is Straka.