GORDON SEAY PHOTO
Sam Ryder, Aaron Rai of England and rookie Brent Grant took advantage of playing the easier North Course at Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla.
Ryder, Rai and Grant posted scores of eight-under-par 64 to tie for the lead, with Brendan Steele of Idyllwild and UC Riverside one stroke behind after a bogey-free 65 following the first round of the 71st edition of what is now the Farmers Insurance Open.
Playing alongside Steele was a real advantage, said the 33-year-old Ryder (pictured), who made a 30-foot eagle putt soon after the twosome started on the 10th hole.
“That was a nice get off to a great start, obviously, and we were both playing well, so we just kept on going,” said Ryder, who has three pro victories, including one each on the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour Canada, but none on the PGA Tour. “We were joking with each other and just had a fun day out there.
“Naturally, this is the easier of the two courses and there was very little wind, so after starting with the eagle I was able to make several birdies today. It was nice to get off to a good start, because I understand it’s supposed to be windy tomorrow.”
Said Steele, who has three PGA Tour victories including the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort in Napa in 2017 and 2018: “It was great with Sam making an eagle on our first hole and we just kind of played off each other all the way around. If it’s windy tomorrow, we’re in such good shape that we shouldn’t have to worry about the cutline if we play reasonably well.”
Ryder added three birdies through No. 17 on the back nine and added three more in four holes through No. 7 coming home on the front nine in his bogey-free round.
Rai collected five birdies while finishing his bogey-free round on the front nine, and Grant birdied three of the first four holes before making his lone bogey at No. 6 and made four straight bridies through No. 12 and added one more on the 17th hole.
“I think the temperature and also how the wind affects the ball is a little closer to what I would have grown up with in the U.K.,” said Rai, who has won six times around the world but not on the PGA Tour “The ball doesn’t travel quite as far here compared to other places in America. The wind feels a little bit heavier also.
“I guess I just see the shots a little bit clearer where sometimes when it’s hot in the States and when there’s 5-to-10 mile-an-hour wind, the ball can just fly straight through, whereas here I feel like you can use the wind as a little bit of a buffer, which probably just suits my eye a little better, so that probably helps me tee to green.”
Said Grant, who won the 2022 Simmons Bank Open on the Korn Ferry Tour: “I just made some putts and hopefully we keep doing that and scores will show.”
Sahith Theegala of Chino Hills and Pepperdine collected five birdies on the back nine in a 66 on the North Course and is tied for fourth with Hayden Buckley, who birdied the last three holes in a bogey-free round on the North; Sam Stevens, who made four birdies on the front nine while going bogey-free to equal the low score on the South Course; Andrew Novak had five birdies in his own 66 on the South; Garrick Higgo, who eagled No. 9 in a bogey-free round on the North; Gary Woodland, who birdied three of the last six holes in the North, and Harry Higgs, who had an eagle at No. 7 and three bogeys on his back nine on the North.
Eighth-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal birdied his last two holes on the North for a 67 and is tied for 12th, seventh-ranked Will Zalatoris birdied three of his last four holes to cap a 68 on the North and is in a tie for 19th that includes ninth-ranked Justin Thomas, who also played the South, while sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State is tied for 92nd after a 72 on the North.
Third-ranked Jon Rahm, who has won his last two tournaments and four of his last six, struggled to a 73 on the South and is tied for 116th.
Kyle Westmoreland, a graduate of the Air Force Academy who has yet to win as a pro, hit the shot of the day, making a hole in one with a six-iron from 201 yards on the 16th hole on the South Course.
“I don’t drink, but I need a beer right now,” said Westmoreland, who is tied for 50th at 70.
Obviously, Westmoreland wound up buying a few beers and other drinks in the clubhouse afterward.
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