Punta Cana offering alternative for gamers to problem for first PGA Tour win
It was a sun-splashed day with comparatively little breeze for the opening spherical within the Dominican Republic. It was additionally a primary alternative for a number of gamers to jockey for early place as they contend for what could be a watershed win.
The Corales Punta Cana Resort & Membership Championship is not an reverse occasion, rescheduled from March to September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However most of the recreation’s greatest names have opted to relaxation this week within the wake of a grueling U.S. Open, opening up the door for a few of the Tour’s rank-and-file to compete for profitable prizes that stretch past the $720,000 verify.
With full FedExCup factors awarded this week, the winner will head to the Masters in April 2021. They will additionally go to the Sentry Event of Champions, The Gamers and PGA Championship within the spring. The largest incentive for individuals who made the trek to the Caribbean probably comes within the type of job stability: the champ will get a two-season Tour exemption that will run by way of August 2023.
Via one spherical in Punta Cana, the leaderboard is affected by gamers who’re each taking part in season-to-season and searching for a primary Tour win. The six gamers who opened with 66 or higher have mixed for precisely one prior victory on Tour – that got here from Hudson Swafford, who received in Palm Springs in 2017 and holds a share of the lead after a 7-under 65.
For the opposite three co-leaders, uncharted territory lies forward. Sepp Straka has held a share of the lead twice earlier than on Tour, however his lone win as a professional got here on the Korn Ferry circuit in 2018. Tyler McCumber has a well-known pedigree however has but to win even a Korn Ferry occasion. Harrington’s story is much more head-turning, as he toiled for greater than a decade with out profitable any OWGR-sanctioned occasion as a professional and with out incomes a Tour card earlier than his promotion final 12 months. He was a runner-up on the Houston Open final fall however hasn’t cracked the highest 35 in 19 subsequent begins.
However Harrington has some familiarity with Punta Cana, having tied the course document with a 62 in 2016 when the Korn Ferry Tour held an occasion on this structure, and he went low once more with a spherical that included six birdies and an eagle.
“I really feel comfy round right here, so I am wanting ahead to the remainder of the week,” Harrington stated. “I really feel like as form of an extended participant I can form of let it rip a bit of bit. … Actually it is simply form of the surroundings and it is a good place to return.”
Up-and-comers aren’t the one gamers vying for a maiden win. Two of the Tour’s most seasoned (however winless) veterans are off to robust begins, as Jamie Lovemark and Ricky Barnes opened with matching rounds of 5-under 67 to path by two. Lovemark had a stellar newbie profession together with a spot on the embellished 2007 Walker Cup group, however he has but to win in 158 begins as a professional. For Barnes the drought extends even longer, as the previous U.S. Newbie champ turned professional in 2003. However 305 begins later and approaching his 40th birthday, the trophy case stays naked.
Barnes has struggled with damage lately, and he is now exterior the highest 1000 on this planet rankings. However he completed T-23 two weeks in the past in Napa, making a minimize for the primary time in virtually a 12 months, and did not drop a shot in his opening spherical within the D.R.
“I have never been capable of play a lot, with my standing and every thing. However I have been taking part in rather a lot at house,” Barnes stated. “I have been working laborious on and off the golf course, and to see some outcomes and actually have a probability come Sunday at Safeway, it was reassuring. So glad I carried it over to at this time and hopefully three extra rounds.”
After all, a promising begin is simply that. Barnes can level to loads of examples over a two-decade profession the place a powerful begin fizzled out shortly thereafter. However throughout every week the place most of the greatest stars are nonetheless licking their Winged Foot wounds and world No. 43 Henrik Stenson is the highest-ranked participant within the discipline, there is a sense within the air that chance awaits this weekend.
“Simply maintain plugging alongside,” Straka stated. “Immediately was an ideal spherical, however there’s going to be some adversity someplace. So simply attempt to keep affected person and maintain making an attempt to make birdies.”