USPGA Tour rookie Brendan Steele and fellow Americans Briny Baird, Garrett Willis and Matt Bettencourt stole the limelight from Tiger Woods by charging into a tie for the Frys.com Open lead on Thursday.
While Woods struggled on the greens in mainly wet and cold conditions at CordeValle Golf Club in his first tournament appearance in almost two months, Steele and company fired four-under 67s to set the first-round pace.
Steele, who clinched his maiden USPGA Tour title at the Texas Open in April, covered the back nine in a sizzling five-under 31 to join Baird, Willis and Bettencourt at the top of the leaderboard on a saturated course playing ultra-long.
“It was a little cold and rainy this morning, and the ball wasn’t carrying very far,” the 28-year-old Steele told reporters after recording five birdies and a lone bogey.
Australians Steve Bowditch, Matt Jones, Rod Pampling and Aron Price, Canadian Chris Baryla and American Troy Matteson opened with 68s, while three-time major winner Ernie Els was among a group of 14 players on 69.
British world No. 20 Paul Casey, the highest-ranked player in the field, briefly held a share of the lead, before dropping four shots in the last six holes to card a 70.
Former world No. 1 Woods, who has not competed since he missed the cut at the PGA Championship in August, struggled badly with his putting on the way to an erratic 73.
“That’s probably one of the worst putting rounds I’ve ever had,” he said after totaling 27 putts and reaching just nine greens in regulation. “Whatever momentum I could have gotten by hitting good shots, I just missed putts.”
After making an encouraging start under overcast skies with a birdie at the par-four first, Woods bogeyed the second and third to reach the turn in one-over 36.
He squandered a golden opportunity at the par-three 11th where his birdie putt from four feet slid past the right edge of the cup, before he made a total mess of the par-five 12th.
He double-bogeyed the hole after driving into the left rough and pulling his second shot into a hazard, before taking a penalty drop.
Though he birdied the par-five 15th after ending up just short of the green in two shots, he failed to make up any further ground over the closing stretch.
Former major winners Angel Cabrera, Steve Elkington and Rich Beem were among those who struggled on the way to 74s.
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