Long-hitting Jason Kokrak of the US recorded two eagles in ideal scoring conditions as he charged into a three-way tie for the lead in Thursday’s opening round of the USPGA Humana Challenge.
While twice former champion Phil Mickelson struggled with his putting en route to a level-par 72, Kokrak fired a flawless 63 at La Quinta Country Club, one of three venues hosting the pro-am celebrity event.
The beefy Kokrak took advantage of a perfect day in the California desert, covering his last nine holes in four-under 32 to finish level with compatriots Roberto Castro and James Hahn.
In-form USPGA Tour rookie Russell Henley, who won last weekend’s Sony Open in Hawaii, was a further stroke back after a 64, along with fellow American Doug LaBelle II, and Australians Aaron Baddeley and Greg Chalmers.
On a sublime, sun-splashed day, Kokrak made a sizzling start with a birdie on his opening hole, the par-four 10th, followed by an eagle at the 11th.
“I just got off to a good solid start,” he told reporters after mixing five birdies with his two eagles. “I just tried to play solid from tee to green, put it in the right spots, put it in the fairways, and out there that’s key. Today couldn’t have been a better day.”
Castro, who started out on the Nicklaus Private course, birdied his first two holes, before surging into a share of the lead with five birdies on his homeward nine.
“I got off to a good start, birdied the first two with kick-ins basically, and then just played well after that,” the 27-year-old said. “I didn’t make any long putts until the 18th hole, where I rolled in like a 40, 50-footer. This tournament, you kind of got to get it going and keep it going. If you don’t make a bunch of birdies you’re kind of left behind.”
Rookie Hahn, who started out on the Arnold Palmer Private layout, had two chip-ins on his way to a bogey-free, nine-birdie round.
“It was a great day,” Hahn said. “Chipped two in, hadn’t done that since I was nine years old, so nothing more I could say about that round. I just made a lot of putts. The greens are rolling pure. You hit a good putt on the right line at the right speed, it’s going to go in.”