CARY, N.C. – Doug Garwood’s 7-under par 65 led opening-round play at the 2016 SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club on Friday.
Brad Faxon trailed a stroke behind at 6-under, while Larry Mize and Charles Schwab Cup leader Bernhard Langer both finished at 5-under.
For all four, putting on the new Bermuda greens on the Highlands course made the difference in going low.
“Yeah, I putted pretty well,” Garwood said.
“The thing I remember is I had four lip‑outs, so felt like it should have been lower, but it was fun.”
Starting his round with birdies on his second and third holes, Faxon played to par until making his move on the back nine.
With the exception of a bogey on the par-5 13th, he posted five birdies on the back nine to pull within one stroke of Garwood.
“I made a long putt for birdie on No. 2 and a really long putt for birdie on No. 3 and it was just, you know, kind of the whole day was setting the tone by the first three holes,” Faxon said.
“Obviously made a lot of nice putts when you shoot that low. These new bermuda greens I think are better than the bent, so it’s a good move for the golf course.”
Mize and Langer echoed Garwood’s and Faxon’s thoughts regarding play with the flat stick.
“It is amazing how dry it is considering the weather that you all had last week – it was under water and the greens have just come in fabulously,” Mize said.
“Yeah, it was a great day, especially the putter was hot,” Langer, the 2012 tournament champion added.
“I putted extremely well today – made a lot of par saves and some really good birdie putts as well. Never hit one stiff – a gimme birdie – didn’t have one of those; so all my birdies were putts.”
To set the bar and assume the lead, Garwood birdied three of his last five holes on the back nine – Nos. 14, 15, and 17 – while assembling an earlier string of birdies from the 8th through 10 holes to make his move up the leaderboard.
“On No. 8, I hit 3‑wood off the tee, hit a lob wedge up there to about 14 feet, and rolled that right in the heart,” Garwood said.
“Then on No. 9 I tried to hit 3‑wood second shot and I hit it up in the rough, which is a mistake, but I gouged it out about 30 feet and rolled that one right in the heart. Then on No. 10, I hit driver, 9‑iron to about 15 feet and rolled that one. That one was right in the heart.”
A T3 finish at the Pacific Links Bear Mountain Championship two weeks ago was the 27-year pro’s best result this season, including scoring one of the Tour’s lowest nine holes with a 7-under 29 at that event.
It seems that he’s hit a groove entering play in his second career SAS event, having finished T11 at Prestonwood back in 2013, and if he continues to roll the ball well, he may well equal or better that finish.
Doing so would move him up considerably from his No. 37 spot in the Tour’s current Charles Schwab Cup standings, and into the upper tier of the Tour’s new three-event playoff competition.