Martin’s course record gives him Zurich lead
AVONDALE, La. — Ben Martin made his way through most of the TPC Louisiana course with the type of sparse gallery one would expect for a player who had missed seven cuts in his previous nine starts on the PGA Tour.
The few who followed him, including his mother, father and wife, were treated to a round never before seen at the current home of the Zurich Classic.
Martin’s 10-under 62 in Thursday’s opening round broke the course record by two strokes, highlighted by a chip-in from 55 feet and two birdie putts of 20 feet or more.
“It was one of those days you dream about,” Martin said. “I started the round with two birdies in a row and they just kept rolling in.”
Martin birdied 10 holes and made pars on the rest. His final birdie came on his chip with a 54-degree sand wedge on the par-3 17th hole, which hugs a water hazard and was made more difficult by afternoon winds.
Martin said the challenges that hole posed led him to take a conservative tee shot with a 5-iron rather than a longer club, and the way the 26-year-old South Carolina native executed his plan exemplified the type of day he had.
“That was just managing my game. I knew that hole was into the wind with water left,” Martin said. “I felt like short of the green was a pretty easy chip.”
He certainly made it look that way.
“Really, everything was working well,” Martin said. “It was just one of those days, just like you draw it up.”
The previous record at TPC Louisiana was a 64, accomplished many times, including on Thursday, when Andrew Svoboda did it to take a lead that held up until Martin surged past late in the day.
Peter Hanson and Sueng-Yul Noh were tied for third at 65.
Last weekend, Martin matched his career best with a third-place tie in the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, S.C. He also finished third in early March in the Puerto Rico Open, but missed four cuts after that.
Martin opened the Zurich with a 10-foot birdie putt, the first of six birdies on the front nine, most set up by approach shots within 10 feet. One exception was his 26-foot birdie putt on No. 5. He opened the back nine with a 14-foot birdie putt, made a 10-footer on 11 and a 20-footer on 13.
Svoboda birdied six of his last nine holes.
Like Martin, the 34-year-old Svoboda has never won on the PGA Tour. While much can change with three rounds left, New Orleans has seen its share of maiden tour triumphs. It has happened in six of the past nine years, and 10 of the past 16.
“I’ll take that stat,” Svoboda said.
Svoboda’s best career finish on the PGA Tour is a tie for 15th at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas in October.
Hanson’s round was highlighted by an eagle on the par-4 sixth hole, accomplished with a 6-iron from 183 yards.
Erik Compton, Chad Collins and Michael Thompson were tied for fifth at 66, and Jeff Overton, Stuart Appleby and Robert Streb followed at 67.
Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient, spent the early part of the week meeting with children at a New Orleans-area hospital and participated in a junior golf clinic. Although that limited his practice time, he thought it helped his mindset.
“It seems to really relax me and really puts things in perspective,” Compton said. “I seem to play better during the weeks where I have hospital visits.”
On the par-5 seventh, his 297-yard drive sailed right of the fairway, crossing a cart path. But he belted a 227-yard shot out of the rough to the foot of the green and two-putted for birdie. He ended his round with a 22-foot birdie putt on nine to briefly put him atop the leaderboard.
Compton, also winless on the PGA Tour, said he feels “very comfortable” on New Orleans’ Pete Dye-designed course.
“You have to hit a lot of long iron shots and drive it well here, and those are some of the strengths of my game,” he said.