Tommy Gainey and Johnson Wagner celebrated the US Independence Day holiday in sizzling style on Thursday, sharing the Greenbrier Classic first-round lead on eight-under-par 62.
The top two made the most of the rain-softened Old White TPC course — and lift, clean and place rules in effect — with Gainey hitting 13 of 14 fairways in a round that included eight birdies.
“I missed one fairway today with this new driver and that says a lot, because if I can hit fairways, I can score, I can really play this game,” Gainey said. “Today with the soft greens, you know, I made some putts.”
Wagner joined Gainey atop the leaderboard with a round that included six birdies and an eagle at the par-five 12th.
However, Phil Mickelson, making his first start since yet another US Open near-miss at Merion, could not take advantage.
Mickelson, who endured his sixth US Open runner-up finish, had a triple-bogey eight at the par-five 17th en route to a four-over 74.
“I’m so far back that I just want to play a solid round and see what that does,” Mickelson said of his aspirations for yesterday.
It was smooth sailing, in contrast, for Gainey and Wagner.
Gainey’s birdies included four in a row from the eighth through the 11th and two sets of back-to-backers, at the first and second, and the 16th and 17th holes.
It was a big change of pace for Gainey, who came into the US$6.3 million PGA Tour event ranked 150th in driving accuracy on the tour.
“If you don’t hit it in the fairway, you’re just trying to knock it on the green and make par because hitting it out of this rough is no fun,” said Gainey, who captured his first PGA tour event at the McGladrey Classic last year when he fired a final-round 60.
This season he has been unable to build much on that success, missing 13 cuts in 22 starts.
“I surprised myself,” Gainey said. “The golf course is really soaked, it’s really soft, and with the players that we have out here, when you have soft greens and the rough is not too penal, I mean, you can really score low.”
After his eagle at the 12th, Wagner was even thinking about golf’s magical number of 59, but he parred the last six holes.
“It’s nice to be disappointed with a 62,” he said. “I’ve been disappointed with 76s and 79s lately. So it’s a welcome sight.”
Former US Open champion Webb Simpson and South Korean Jin Park — who has only made three cuts in 14 US tour starts this season — were two strokes back on six-under 64.
Simpson had six birdies without a bogey, while Park notched seven birdies and just one bogey.
Australian Steven Bowditch, Daniel Summerhays, Neal Lancaster and Tag Ridings were tied on 65, while a group of a dozen players on 66 included Sweden’s Jonas Blixt and Peter Hanson, Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge and South Korean Lee Dong-hwan.