Peter Koutroumpis (@pksport)
CARY, NC – It was an exceptional October day with warm temperatures and clear skies that the players in the field of the 2023 SAS Championship had to begin play at Prestonwood Country Club on Friday.
With 2022 champion Fred Couples not back to defend his record-setting title, the table was ready to be set for any and all takers as the race towards the upcoming Charles Schwab Cup playoffs continued.
Rod Pampling, the clubhouse leader for the day, posted a 6-under par 66, with 10 others closely trailing him, all just one stroke back.
Leading the Pack
Dropping birdie putts on five of his last eight holes, Pampling matched his low 18-hole score of the season while seeking his second win on the PGA Tour Champions.
Making his fifth start at Prestonwood, with a previous best finish of T-12, he looked forward to the challenge of keeping ahead of a talented pack of players, including eight past SAS champions.
“You know, obviously started the day off really well, hit a lot of close shots,” Pampling said.
“Had a three-putt, which kind of stalled. But then I made a nice one on 11 which got us kickstarted. Had obviously five birdies in the last eight holes, which was nice.
Once you get going on the back…still got to drive it well, got to be in the fairway. I was doing that, which allows you to be very aggressive out there. The course is in perfect condition, the greens are rolling great. It really was there for the taking today.”
Acting like you’ve been there before
Missed birdie opportunities from challenging ball positions outside of 15 feet on the slippery, yet receptive 18th green didn’t negate solid rounds of 67 from both of them.
“The course is playing exactly the same as it ever has – the greens are really good – they’re quick, they’re very fast,” Els said.
“On a day like today, you gotta take it on. Whenever you shoot a 67 (you can’t be disappointed), you know.”
Noting his approach shot onto the 18th that stopped and popped, but didn’t release down the slope on the back-left side towards the hole, Kelly wasn’t discouraged in sitting one shot back.
“From the big ball mark, it landed perfectly on line and was about two feet from going down and in the hole,” Kelly said.
“Kind of a perfect shot and it didn’t end up perfect, and gave the putt a good run.”
Staying the course
Even with forecasted wetter conditions on Saturday, Pampling hopes to be afforded the chance to continue to score at the same pace he opened the tournament with.
“Touch wood, I guess they said it’s scattered, so hopefully it will be scattered enough to miss the golf course, which would be nice.,” he said.
“Yeah, obviously tomorrow’s just going to be who knows. When we get here tomorrow, we’ll see what it’s doing. I don’t think we need to change our game plan at all, it’s just being a little bit more careful, I guess.”
The long view to Sunday
Kelly succinctly noted, regarding the Tour’s depth of championship winners, how he looked forward to battling for the SAS Championship title on Sunday; and particularly so after Couples posted a course-record 60 on Sunday last year.
“I’m not worried about tying anybody today (following Round 1),” he said with a smile.
“Every single week, somebody’s gonna shoot a good score and you just hope it’s you. You gotta put yourself in position on Sunday and hope it’s your day. It was Freddie’s day last year. It was something I enjoyed watching, just so I can duplicate it.”
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