SAN DIEGO – Sam Ryder says most of his great rounds usually start with a birdie. On Wednesday, at the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open, he did one better than that.
Starting on the par-5, 10th hole at the North Course at Torrey Pines, Ryder rolled in a long eagle putt.
“Well, that’s it for me. I’m done for the day,” Brendan Steele, one of his competitors in his grouping, recounted what Ryder said. “I was like, ‘Dude, this isn’t a best ball. You’ve got to keep playing.’ So, he just decided to go crazy.”
Ryder tallied six birdies to go along with the eagle to post a bogey-free 8-under 64 and share the lead with Aaron Rai and rookie Brent Grant. Steele did his best to keep up with Ryder, rolling in a birdie at 10, the first of seven on the round to shoot 65.
“He was always in front of me the whole day,” Steele said. “His good play was helpful. It’s nice to see balls go in the hole.”
“You do feed off that,” Ryder added of a comfortable pairing where both players were dialed in. “There’s truth to that, for sure.”
Ryder, 33, entered the tournament in a slump, having missed three straight cuts and four of his last five, but his confidence remained intact.
“I felt like I was shaking holiday rust off,” he explained. “I’ve been working hard since the start of the new year and felt good about my game. It was just, it started off the tee for me, it was drive it in the fairway and I felt like I could attack.”
Ryder tabbed it a stress-free round and it all began with the opening-hole eagle.
“There wasn’t much to the putt,” he said. “It was actually fairly straight and it was one of those when it was halfway there, it looked pretty good and it just kind of fell in perfect.”
Farmers: Thursday tee times, how to watch
Brent Grant moves into a tie for the @FarmersInsOpen lead with his ninth birdie of the day. 📈
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) January 25, 2023
The 26-year-old rookie flamed out of the American Express last week finishing dead last for 36 holes. His 54-score included a two-stroke penalty for arriving late to the first tee during his third-round 79.
Same man, more experience, he said.
“It’s a good round of golf and I may be in the lead with a couple other guys, but again, it’s just day one,” he said. “You’ve got to put the past behind you and it’s the past so now we move forward.”
Grant birdied four holes in a row, starting at the ninth en route to his 64, and credited his putter for the hot start.
“I probably worked harder on my putting in the last four days than I ever have in my life after having quite the bad two weeks,” said Grant, who visited the nearby Scotty Cameron putting studio for a tune-up. “I’m always open to changing when it comes to putting because I’m as ignorant as anybody when it comes to that stuff. I can’t thank them enough. But again, it’s just a good start. We’ve got to keep doing it.”
Rai, a native of England, fired his own bogey-free 64 and said he felt at home on a sun-blessed but cool day.
“I think the temperature and also how the wind affects the ball is a little closer to what I would have grown up with in the U.K. The ball doesn’t travel quite as far here compared to other places in America,” Rai said.
Rookie Sam Stevens, who made back-to-back birdies at Nos. 13 and 14 during a bogey-free round, and Andrew Novak, who made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back-nine, were both sitting pretty with 66 on the tougher South Course.
It was a mixed bag for the top-ranked players in the field. Collin Morikawa led the way with a 5-under 67 on the North Course. Will Zalatoris and Max Homa were a shot back at 68.
Reigning PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas opened with a solid 4-under 68 on the South Course.
John Rahm, who is bidding for a win in his third straight start, posted 1-over 73 on the South and will have his work cut out for him to make the cut let alone keep his hot streak intact. To make matters more difficult for Rahm and the field are the Santa Ana winds, which are expected to blow on Thursday.
Local product Xander Schauffele struggled to even-par 72 on the North. Tony Finau was a stroke worse at 73 on the South.
Lanto Griffin wasn’t sure what to expect after a nearly seven-month absence from the PGA Tour.
It couldn’t have gone too much better than a bogey-free 5-under 67 at Torrey Pines’s North Course on Wednesday in his first round back.
Griffin, 34, underwent a microdiscectomy on July 25 to repair a ruptured disc in his lower back (L5-S1).
Griffin said the injury bothered him on and off for more than two years but had grown unbearable the last three months.
“Quality of life was impossible,” said Griffin, who had last played on July 1 at the John Deere Classic.
Prior to surgery, Griffin tried an epidural, but the injection actually made the injury worse.
Griffin said he’s strengthened his back during physical therapy and has been walking his dog four times a day. He did a rehab start last week on the Korn Ferry Tour, which marked the first time he had played and walked six straight days. He tabbed himself 100 percent.
“Pretty darn close,” he said. “Knock on wood, it’s been good for the last three months.”