A seven-week mental refresh delivered instant results as Australian Lucas Herbert shot 63 to lead the Fortinet Championship by two in California.
Unsighted since missing the cut at The Open Championship in July, the 27-year-old Victorian holed more than 144 feet of putts in a nine-under par round highlighted by a run of six straight birdies from the 12th to the 17th hole on the back nine of the North Course at Silverado Resort.
Herbert has a two-stroke lead from Korea’s Seong-hyeon Kim as he seeks to make amends for a lacklustre PGA TOUR season with a strong showing in the Fall Series and the benefits that brings.
In an open and honest post-round interview, Herbert admitted that issues off the golf course had not only impacted his performance on the golf course but had begun to put a strain on the relationships of those closest to him.
“I think I’d become probably a bitter and spiteful person,” Herbert conceded.
“Not over the top, but I didn’t like the version of myself when I look back on and see at The Open Championship.
“I think I was wound up pretty tight and kind of lashed out at people around me too quickly, too easily.
“The break was a good chance for me to be able to get away and reset, just get away from this life.
“You’re under the pump so much, so much pressure on you externally and internally to play well.
“To be able to get away from that, you’re sort of able to kind of find yourself a little bit again.
“I felt like if I could just come out here and be a better person to the people around me, my relationships, you know, family, friends, that only benefits.
“That was maybe all I cared about coming here this week.
“It’s really nice to shoot 63, but I’m going to do my best to go out there with the same attitude tomorrow and that is the main focus of the week.”
It may have been a case of good things happening to good people on Thursday.
Committed to play both the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship and ISPS HANDA Australian Open this summer, Herbert made four of five up-and-downs including two-from-two sand saves, the No.1 putter on tour last year picking up close to five strokes on the field on the greens.
Yet despite his score, Herbert was headed straight to the practice range to chip away at seven weeks of rust.
“I’m going to go do a bunch of practice now because I don’t think I really played that well today; I think I got really lucky,” said Herbert, who didn’t touch a club until a week ago.
“It felt like every time I missed the fairway or missed a shot, it seemed to finish in a decent position where I could kind of recover.
“Obviously made a stack of putts out there which helped but I still feel super rusty after today.
“It’s funny to say that after shooting 63, but I still feel a long way away from where I’d like to be.”
Cam Davis was six strokes back of Herbert in a tie for 15th late in his round as Sydney’s Harrison Endycott bounced back after an early bogey to shoot 2-under 70 in Round 1.
Making his 500th start on the PGA TOUR, Aaron Baddeley turned in 1-under but dropped shots on the back nine to be 1-over and tied for 105th with two holes to play.
In the second event of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, Brett Drewitt has made a strong start at the Simmons Bank Open in Tennessee.
Sitting 30th in the race for one of the 30 PGA TOUR cards on offer at the end of the four-even finals series, Drewitt played his final eight holes in 5-under to shoot 68 and a tie for seventh.
It is a timely return to form for Drewitt who began the season with four top-five finishes in his first six starts but has made the cut just once in his past 16 events.
Curtis Luck is just one back of Drewitt in a tie for 16th but Rhein Gibson is projected to fall from 27th to 31st in the points list after a 3-over 75 on day one.
Jason Scrivener’s 4-under 68 was the best of the Aussies in Round 1 of the DP World Tour’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth while Kristalle Blum is tied for 10th and four strokes off the lead at the LET Access Series Hauts De France Pas De Calais Golf Open.
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