Austin Smotherman simply went into his memory bank.
The 28-year-old Smotherman, who claimed one of his two pro victories in the 2018 Mexico Open when it was part of the PGA Latinoamerica, birdied the last four holes to cap a course-record eight-under par 63 and take a one-stroke lead over Eric van Rooyen of South Africa and Tano Gora of Argentina in the Mexico Open at Vadanta at Vidanta Vallarta Golf Course in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
“I still get a little bit of some goosebumps thinking about it, for sure,” Smotherman said of his first victory five years ago. “The trophy’s not small by any size either, so I think just think of having to kneel down, take some photos with all the people after the round and it’s one of the memories I have because lifting that thing’s not easy.
“Just the reception afterward. Winning an event like this, the Mexico Open, which has such a deep history, was special. There are names on that trophy that are in the Hall of Fame and what it kind of means here, or anywhere, a national open anywhere is very special.
“(Today) I kind of blinked, and the next thing you know had four birdies to finish. I felt like I was in my zone today, just very present. It was just a nice little finish. I’m just feeling good. I feel like my game’s in a good spot. It just was super steady.”
Smotherman, who also captured the 2021 Simmons Bank Open on the Korn Ferry, started on the back nine in round one and made three straight birdies through No. 14, and capped his 63 with five birdies on the front with a chip-in birdie from 37 feet on the ninth hole.
Van Rooyen came along late in the day and holed out from 141 yards for an eagle on the 15th hole and added two birdies down the stretch to go with the four he made in the first seven holes against a lone bogey at No. 8.
That came even though Van Rooyen, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2021 Barracuda Championship, plus the players and caddies in his group had to fall to the ground in order to avoid a huge swarm of bees on the 10th hole.
“I just saw them here and I just told my caddie, I’m like: ‘Bees, bees, bees,’ and he looks at me like I’m crazy,” Van Rooyen recalled. “So, I dropped down, and then he sees them, he dropped down. (Francesco) Molinari and Chez (Reavie) looked at me like I’m nuts and then they realized, like, 30 seconds later … that the bees just went right at them, so they went down, too. It’s funny now, but certainly don’t want to get stung by those bad boys.
“ … On the eagle, I had a 4-iron in my hand to a pin that’s tucked on the right. You’ve just got to reset and refocus, so it’s simple. I went straight at it. You don’t really plan on holing out from 141, so when it happens it’s pretty sweet.”
Goyo, who has won seven times around the world as a pro, made three birdies on the front nine and added four more coming home, capped by a 10-foot birdie putt on the final home in a bogey-free 64.
Rookie Raul Perada of Mexico, playing in his first PGA Tour event, birdied the last three holes of the front nine en route to a bogey-free 65 to tie for third with Stephan Jaeger of Germany, who birdied four of his first seven holes; Eric Cole, who bounced back from a first-hole bogey with seven birdies; Taylor Pendrith of Canada, who made birdies five of the first eight holes, and Tony Finau, who birdied four of the first seven holes.
Brandon Wu of Danville and Stanford collected seven birdies in a 66 and is tied for ninth with Richy Werenski, who made four birdies down the stretch; Sean O’Hair, who played bogey-free; Austin Cook, who had for birdies on back nine, and Scott Harrington, who made three straight birdies on the front nine.
Top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, the Masters winner who is defending champion in the Mexico Open at Vidanta, had three birdies on the back nine in a 67 and is tied for 14th.
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