Wyandotte golfer Justin Hicks watches his ball take flight from the 18th tee. He shot 64, good for a tie for second (Matt York / Associated Press)
La Quinta, Calif. — Patrick Reed went low in perfect scoring and weather conditions Thursday at the Humana Challenge. He wasn’t alone.
Reed ran off five straight birdies in the middle of his round on PGA West’s Arnold Palmer Private Course and finished with a bogey-free 9-under 63 to tie his career low.
“The course is in perfect shape,” said Reed, the Wyndham Championship winner in August. “The rough isn’t very high, the fairways are perfect and the greens are rolling very true. That’s the main thing to being successful out here is with how great the conditions are, that if you’re hitting putts on line, they’re going to go in, no matter what.”
Ryan Palmer, Justin Hicks (Wyandotte, University of Michigan), Daniel Summerhays and Charley Hoffman shot 64.
Reed started on the back nine and birdied Nos. 16-18 and 1-2 to get to 7-under. He added birdies on Nos. 6 and 7.
“I started out a little struggling with the driver, had some lefts in it, but luckily I missed it in the right spots,” Reed said. “I was really confident with my irons, kept hitting greens and all of a sudden, 10-, 12-, 15-, 20-foot putts started going in.”
With wife Justine pregnant with their first child, her brother, Kessler Karain, is subbing as Reed’s caddie. Justine has walked every hole with her husband this year and plans to rejoin him inside the ropes after the baby girl arrives. The due date is Memorial Day.
“We can’t wait for that,” Reed said. “I’m excited to be a dad.”
Palmer birdied his final six holes and nine of his last 12 on the Palmer course, the site of the final round Sunday.
“I wasn’t making a whole lot of long putts, just hitting it close,” Moore said.
Hicks had an eagle, seven birdies and a bogey on the Jack Nicklaus Private Course.
“Just trying to give myself as many opportunities as I can,” Hicks said.
Summerhays birdied seven of his last 10 on the Nicklaus course. Hoffman, the 2007 winner, had an eagle and six birdies at La Quinta Country Club.
With a high temperature in the mid-80s and only a gentle morning breeze off the Santa Rosa Mountains, the players averaged 69.692 on the Palmer course, 69.431 on the Nicklaus layout, and 70.192 at La Quinta.
Kapalua winner Zach Johnson topped the group at 65. He played at La Quinta.
“The greens over there are, I don’t even know how to explain them, it’s like carpet,” Johnson said. “I mean, they’re just so good. I don’t know what they do over there, but they look artificial. They’re like this every year, but they’re as good as I’ve ever seen.”
Johnson won the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua two weeks ago for his 11th PGA Tour victory. Dating to his rookie season in 2004, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have more tour victories.
“It means that I’m doing something right,” Johnson said. “It means I’ve got a great team and we have got a great vision. I think it also means that I’m really never content with where I’m at. I’m always trying to improve.”
The top-ranked player in the field at No. 6, Johnson has three worldwide wins in his last seven starts. He began the run in the BMW Championship outside Chicago in September, and beat Woods in a playoff in December in the World Challenge.
“It really started for me probably last summer,” Johnson said. “I just didn’t win.”
Keegan Bradley opened with a 69 at La Quinta in his first start of the year. He’s fighting a cold and struggled with his distance control and accuracy.
“I’m still a little tired. Getting better every day,” said Bradley, paired with Johnson the first three days. “I’m happy with today’s round for the first round of the year.”
Defending champion Brian Gay also had a 69 at La Quinta.
Phil Mickelson’s new driver didn’t bring him much success in the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, as he failed to make a single birdie in a 1-over 73 to sit six shots behind the leaders.
Mickelson made 17 straight pars in his first round of the year before a bogey on his last hole, and said “I can’t recall the last time I had a round without a birdie.”
Matthew Baldwin of England was tied for the lead with Romain Wattel of France and Rafa Cabrera-Bello after a 67.
Seven players, including European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, were one shot behind.
Mickelson said before the event that he was “so excited about this year” because of a new driver from Callaway Golf that he said could turn one of his weaknesses into a strength.