Windless Wakonda was defenseless Friday, and the scoreboard showed it in the first round of the Principal Charity Classic.
No wind, and plenty of birdies on a sun-kissed day.
“I think it opens the door to everybody when it’s calm and soft like this,” said Glen Day, one of the par-breakers. “Everybody’s in it.”
Fifty-three players broke par Friday. Twenty-nine of them shot in the 60s. There were 14 bogey-free rounds. And the day’s scoring average, 70.519, was the lowest for a round since the tournament moved to Wakonda in 2013. The previous low, 70.568, came in the second round in 2014.
And it comes as no surprise that Bernhard Langer took advantage more than anyone else.
The two-time Masters champion, who has won 37 times on the PGA TOUR Champions, shot a bogey-free 8-under-par 64 to take the first-round lead.
“Bogey free is always fun,” Langer said.
Day, who shared the first- and second-round lead a year ago, and Woody Austin were a shot back at 65. And it’s a formidable group at 66.
That’s where you’ll find defending champion Brandt Jobe, perennial Principal contender Tom Lehman and Jerry Kelly, who picked up the third victory of his PGA TOUR Champions career at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai earlier this season. Also there is Doug Garwood who lost in a playoff with Tom Pernice, Jr., at the 2014 Principal Charity Classic.
Lehman, who first played Wakonda when he was attending college at Minnesota, has finished eighth or better in his six previous Principal appearances. He’s now shot in the 60s in six of has last seven rounds at Wakonda.
Jobe is trying to join Jay Haas (2007, 2008) as the only players to successfully defend their Principal title.
“I think if nothing else, you want to have a good showing,” Jobe said. “I think that’s important.”
After struggling to tame Wakonda in first two attempts, a tie for 31st in 2013 and a tie for 48th in 2015, Langer looks to have figured things out.
In his first eight rounds at Wakonda, Langer was 9 under par and had no bogey-free rounds. In the last two rounds, a closing 67 last year and Friday’s 64, he’s a collective 13 under par with two bogey-free rounds.
“I think I have a pretty good idea now how to play to golf course,” said Langer, who finished fourth last year.
Friday’s 64 was Langer’s best round at Wakonda by two strokes. He shot 66 in the first round last year, which shared the lead with Day and Kevin Sutherland.
Day and Jobe were tied for the lead after the second round. Jobe won. Day shot a final-round 76 and tied for 13th.
“Honestly, I could not tell you what I shot,” Day said. “No big deal. It happens to everybody.”
Day said he had no trouble getting over his final round a year go.
“Real easy,” Day said. “I had about three Coors Lights.”
Day has two more laps around Wakonda to make up for last season’s sour finish.
“We’ll just go out and play again,” Day said. “And then when Sunday comes we’ll get up, put on another pair of pants and try again.”
Jobe spent two hours on Wakonda’s driving range after playing in Thursday’s pro-am, trying to find his winning swing again.
“I didn’t like how I played (in the pro-am), and I had time to grind it out (on the range),” Jobe said. “I said, ‘All right, I’m not leaving here until I’ve got what I want to do.’”
The proof was in the practice. Jobe’s bogey-free 66 included three birdies on both nines.
Langer, who turns 61 in August, is chasing Hale Irwin’s PGA TOUR Champions record of 45 victories. He’s won at least once in 12 consecutive seasons after his victory in last month’s Insperity Invitational. He’s been the leading money winner in nine of the last 10 seasons, and is about the pass Irwin as the career earnings leader.
Langer’s got another goal, too. He’s getting closer and closer to shooting his age.
“That’s been my goal for about a year,” Langer said. “So I’m working on it.”
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter