SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda (AP) — Alex Noren worked hard on his wedge game and it paid off Thursday in the Butterfield Bermuda Championship with 10-under 61, giving him a two-shot lead over four players on a calm day at Port Royal.
With barely any breeze, Noren took dead aim and was dialed in. He set a tournament record with 11 birdies, and his 61 broke by two shots his lowest score on the PGA Tour.
Vince Whaley, Dylan Wu, Robert Garrigus and D.J. Trahan were at 63.
“It was quite easy conditions and there’s a lot of wedges out there,” Noren said. “But I improved the wedges a lot coming from Japan, where I struggled with them. So I’m very, very happy. It was great to get a 10 under. It was a long time ago I had a really low round.”
His previous best was a 63 in second round of the AT&T Byron Nelson last year.
It was the second straight week for low scoring on the PGA Tour, coming off a resort course Tiger Woods designed in Mexico. Erik van Rooyen won last week at 27-under par.
Van Rooyen, whose best friend is in the final months of his battle with cancer in Minnesota, decided to withdraw and went to see him. He was replaced in the Bermuda field by Garrigus, who had received a last-minute sponsor exemption but ultimately got in as a past tour winner.
Garrigus hasn’t made the cut in a PGA Tour or Korn Ferry Tour event since April 2022, a dubious stretch of 20 tournaments.
“My short game was perfect today, which I’ve been working on it a little bit, but I can’t say I’ve been working really hard,” Garrigus said. “I’ve only played a couple times in the past few weeks, maybe a month. … I was just coming out to shake the rust off and have a good time today and I guess I did. It was a lot of fun.”
Nine players did not finish before darkness and were to return Friday morning to complete the first round, a group that included 15-year-old qualifier Oliver Betschart of Bermuda, who was 1 over with three holes left.
Adam Scott, playing in Bermuda for the first time since the former Masters champion was in the old PGA Grand Slam of Golf in 2013, finished eagle-birdie for a 65. Scott was in Boston on Monday as part of the TGL league, and figured Bermuda was on the way to his home in Europe.
Port Royal is one of the shortest courses on the PGA Tour at 6,828 yards, with the wind off Atlantic considered its greatest defense. The wind was on vacation, and players had little resistance among the sunshine, palms and island vistas.
The top 125 on the FedEx Cup after next week keep full PGA Tour cards for 2024, and those inside the top 150 at least have some status.
Noren, and Wu are safe. Whaley, Trahan and Garrigus are well outside the top 150, so this week becomes even more meaningful.
Adam Long opened with a 66 and picked up a small slice of history. The fairways in Mexico are enormous, and Long didn’t miss one all of last week. He had hit his last two fairways in Las Vegas, and then he hit the first 11 fairways at Port Royal.
That adds up to 69 in a row. The previous PGA Tour record was 59 straight fairways.
“Had everyone not come up and said something to me the last 24 hours, I probably wouldn’t think about it as much as I did,” Long said. “But it was in my mind, for sure, to start. Hit a hybrid on the first and then the second fairway is really hard to hit. Luckily it was kind of into the wind, so I hit a driver and hung in the fairway somehow and perfectly in the middle. So after that I was just kind of coasting.”
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