MICHAEL DARDEN / WEST HAWAII TODAY
Brad Bryant shot a 9-under-par 63 yesterday in the first round of the MasterCard Championship. He enters today's second round with a two-stroke lead over Loren Roberts and Ben Crenshaw.
Bryant blisters MasterCard field
He fires a 9-under 63 to lead by two strokes after the first round
HUALALAI, Hawaii » If you didn't have a number in the 60s during yesterday's opening round of the $1.7 million MasterCard Championship at Hualalai, you might as well throw your golf clubs in the trunk of your car and move along.
Brad Bryant flirted with a round in the 50s yesterday, before settling for a blistering 9-under 63 to take a two-shot lead over defending champion Loren Roberts and Ben Crenshaw entering today's second session of this winners-only event. Of the 41 men in the field, 25 shot 69 or better and only three had to write their scores in black ink.
There was little or no wind blowing through this Jack Nicklaus-designed course that all the players say has the best greens on the Champions Tour. With wide fairways and accessible greens, all you had to do was keep it between the lava fields and you had a chance to go low.
Bryant managed six birdies on the opening seven holes and caught Roberts' attention right away. Playing four groups behind Bryant, Roberts had a good idea what he needed to shoot to stay close and managed to do just that with four birdies on his opening seven holes.
But it was the one at the 18th that brought a smile to Roberts' face by day's end. He knew trailing Bryant by three wasn't nearly as good as two in this quarter-horse race. Last year, Roberts finished with a 25-under 191 to match one Champions Tour scoring record for 54 holes and set another in relation to par.
Barring some unforeseen wind shift, the winner tomorrow will need to be in the mid-20s once more in order to walk away with the $290,000 first prize.
"I got out of the box quick with birdies at the first two holes," Roberts said. "To be quite honest with you, making the birdie at 18 made me feel a whole lot better about the day. I played really solid today. The scores are so low on this course, if you aren't birdieing every other hole you feel like you're losing ground, especially after Brad posted that 9 under early."
MICHAEL DARDEN / WEST HAWAII TODAY
Defending champion Loren Roberts opened with a 64 yesterday in the MasterCard Championship on the Big Island.
What Bryant did in his first tour of duty at this 7,107-yard course was birdie the first four holes. He needed only 26 putts for his round, including a 58-footer for birdie at the last that he and his caddie read as straight and true.
When it went in, center cup, Bryant matched his career low as a professional. He shot a 63 during his second round at the Walt Disney World/Oldsmobile Classic on the PGA Tour in 1995. That was so long ago, they don't even make Oldsmobiles anymore. The 63 here in the first round equaled a mark set by Tom Kite in 2002 and matched by Roberts, Don Pooley and Tom Watson last year.
"I made every putt I looked at today," Bryant said. "It was amazing. I wish that I knew how that happened because you'd like to be able to keep it around. I putted kind of like Ben Crenshaw on steroids today or something, I don't know. Man. That's the best putting round I've ever had."
Crenshaw didn't do too badly, himself. He posted the first 65 of the day, matching his opening round of a year ago. Crenshaw has never won a Champions Tour event. His best finish is a tie for fourth, but if he can play as well as he did yesterday, it's possible the man they call "Gentle Ben" can make a run at the end.
The University of Texas graduate, who does a shaka, hook 'em Horns mix whenever a camera passes by, did not open as well as Bryant and Roberts. He managed only two birdies on the first seven holes, preferring to go wild on the back nine, where he birdied the opening three holes and four of the first five en route to a closing 31.
"We never know what we're going to do the first event of the year," Crenshaw said. "The conditions are so unbelievable here on this golf course that you're going to get some opportunities. I hit the ball solid today and kept the ball in play most of the day.
"These greens are beautiful, they really are. As Bermuda greens go, I think they're wonderful. I think I was guilty of over-reading them last year. You try to figure out where the mountain is and you want to put that into perspective. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. You look at what little grain there is, but I didn't have many putts today that didn't do what I thought."
Most of the golfers in the field felt basically the same way. As well as Bryant, Roberts and Crenshaw played, they aren't that far removed from the competition. Allen Doyle, Jerry Pate and 1997 MasterCard winner Hale Irwin came in with 6-under 66s for a tie for fourth with another seven golfers in at 5-under 67, including past winners Kite (2002), Gil Morgan (1998) and Dana Quigley (2003, '05).
"I think someone will shoot in the 50s here eventually," Bryant said. "I didn't think about a 59, but I seriously thought about a 62."
Roberts echoed that sentiment.
"When the greens are that perfect, you know the guys are going to shoot the grass off of it," Roberts said. "You have to go as low as you can, you really can't predict the score. You just have to keep your foot on the gas pedal all the way."