Rickie Fowler, blisters and all, opens RMC with 67 The Detroit News
Detroit — The Doc is in — in the hunt again.
But he's got a whole lot of company, including a Mad Scientist.
Doc Redman, who had to Monday-qualify for the Rocket Mortgage Classic last year before a surprise runner-up finish, stormed to the early lead in the first round of the 2020 edition Thursday, firing a 7-under 65 at Detroit Golf Club that left him in a three-way tie atop the leaderboard. Dozens more were within three strokes, including beefy Bryson DeChambeau, who made mincemeat of the course's par 5s, with just a short iron into both of them on the back nine, en route to a 6-under 66.
On a day of pristine conditions — it's almost like wind is allergic to Detroit Golf Club — Redman was tied for the lead with PGA Tour veteran Scott Stallings, who birdied three of his four holes, and world No. 38 Kevin Kisner, who posted a bogey-less 65 for the best round of the afternoon wave.
DeChambeau, always the technician who's become even more the rage on the PGA Tour in recent weeks because of his massive physique and even more massive drives, headlined a group of seven players a stroke back. Fourteen more were 5 under, including Rickie Fowler.
The average score at DGC, the flattest and one of the shortest courses on Tour, was nearly 2 under par, meaning the cut line could be 5 under for a second consecutive year.
"It's fun. I'm using that to my advantage," said DeChambeau, who came into the week with six straight top-10 finishes, and a thick new look that has him drawing crowds of fellow pros on the driving range — watching him hit absolute bombs, like the 376-yard drive he blasted on the par-5 14th, leading to an eagle.
"There's certain holes that I can really get after it out there.
"I had 9 iron into both par 5s on the back nine. That's kind of nice."
DeChambeau, No. 10 in the world rankings, was up and down on the front nine, and was nearly flawless on the back until he flew the 18th green with a wedge. You can be anywhere on that hole but long. A terrible lie — the pros are realizing that's what you'll get if you miss the greens this week — led to a bogey.
Redman, meanwhile, finished his morning round with seven birdies in his last eight holes, including four short birdie putts. He capped his round with a 15-foot birdie putt down the hill on No. 18.
That was one of just 12 birdies at No. 18, fewest of any hole in the first round. There were four double-bogeys on the hole, including Fowler's.
"I've come off two good finishes and a really good finish last year at this event, which has never really happened to me," said Redman, who tied for 11th last week at the Travelers Championship, and tied for 21st the week before at RBC Heritage. "So I've never had this kind of expectation. ... I think I feel very comfortable because I've played well here and been here.
"So it just comes down to playing golf and doing the best I can."
Fowler, meanwhile, rebounded from his double bogey, with three consecutive birdies early in his second nine and finished with a 5-under 67, a pretty good showing for the tournament's ambassador who, honestly, hasn't had a very good season.
Wearing a customized Puma hat with a red "D," for Detroit, on the back, Fowler got off to a quick start before stalling on the 18th, where his tee shot was wayward, and his approach was even worse, finding the thick, gnarly rough in right-front of the green. He even had trouble finding it, and when he hit it, he lashed it well left, nearly hitting his playing partner Webb Simpson.
That led to the double-bogey, and dropped him to 2 under.
"Next time we'll just hit it in the fairway, won't have that problem," Fowler said.
Fowler's putter, which has been a struggle area this year, turned him around with birdies on holes No. 2-4, including a 17-foot bender on the fourth. He had seven birdies in all, calling that a "good day."
Fowler played alongside defending champion Nate Lashley, who absolutely lapped the field a year ago, leading wire to wire to win by six for his first PGA Tour victory. He was looking forward to coming back and being introduced as a defending champion for the first time, and he got that introduction — albeit with no fans. No matter, Fowler and Simpson applauded and cheered for him.
That was the only highlight early, as Lashley he looked out of sync much of the opening round, even remarking after finding a bunker with a short iron, "God, I'm terrible today."
"Not really any nerves," Lashley said. "Probably not enough nerves. It almost feels like, with no fans out here, it almost feels like it's not a golf tournament.
"So I need to maybe get some nerves for tomorrow and get a little adrenaline going."
Lashley bounced back with two birdies in his last three holes, including a holeout from a greenside bunker, for 1-under 71; last year, he shot two 63s, a 67 and then a closing 70, to beat Redman by six.
Their combined world ranking entering the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic was 1,064 — 353rd for Lashley, and 711th for Redman.
Redman is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He began this tournament week last year in Washington Township, winning the Monday qualifier at The Orchards. This week began much less stressful, and he capped his round Thursday with a 30, the best nine-hole score of his PGA Tour career.
Stallings has won three times on the PGA Tour, but not since 2014.
"You have a ton of wedges and have a lot of opportunities to make birdies," he said.
Kisner is the best-known of the leaders, though this season, like for Fowler, has been a struggle — when there actually have been tournaments. He finished with four birdies in his last six holes.
Other notables in the field: World No. 6 Simpson shot 4-under 68, Tony Finau shot 69, Jason Day shot 70, Bubba Watson and Hideki Matsuyama 71 and Brandt Snedeker 73.
It definitely was a different scene Thursday at Detroit Golf Club than last year, with no fans this time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It made all the peripheral noise, like a barking dog, some far-away police sirens, some lawn mowers from bordering houses and some kids playing in the distance, stand out even more. Still, golf, in any form, has been a welcome sight, being the first professional sporting event held in Michigan in more than 100 days, since mid-March, when the coronavirus shut down the world.
"A lot quieter," said Oakland alum Brian Stuard, the Jackson native who was the hit of the week a year ago en route to a tie for fifth — but didn't hear a peep on his first hole Thursday, when he jarred an 8 iron from 164 for eagle, but didn't even know it went in till he got the green. That kickstarted his 4-under 68.
"It still feels like a home game, I guess, but not quite the same as last year."