Golf

Generous Wyndham pleases crowds

Tiger Woods on playing in Greensboro

Tiger Woods talks about playing at the Wyndham in Greensboro and the small-town atmosphere. Video by Aric Dilalla, adilalla@newsobserver.com
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Tiger Woods talks about playing at the Wyndham in Greensboro and the small-town atmosphere. Video by Aric Dilalla, adilalla@newsobserver.com

A lot of players were going low Thursday in the opening round of the Wyndham Championship.

And Tiger Woods wasn’t left out.

Woods wasn’t the leader, unless you’re talking about the head count in his large gallery at Sedgefield Country Club. Erik Compton, William McGirt and Tom Hoge had 8-under-par 62s to share a one-shot lead.

But Woods’ 6-under 64, and his name on the leaderboards, again created the biggest stir at Sedgefield.

“You could hear the crowds,” Compton said. “He was a couple of groups ahead of us. He has that special cheer or roar, and, you know, it’s nice to hear that. You don’t know if they’re for par or birdie, but he definitely made a little bit of noise out there.”

Woods chipped in for birdie on his first hole, the par-4 10th. That set off his first on-course rumble. He bogeyed the 11th but was generally mistake-free the rest of the day, although he did lip out a four-foot birdie putt on the par-4 sixth, his 15th hole of the day.

“It’s electric out there,” Woods said. “I holed one of the first hole and people went nuts. It was pretty much like that the rest of the day.”

Woods, 187th in the FedEx Cup standings, needs to win or finish solo second in the Wyndham to qualify for the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs. There’s a lot of golf yet, but his best score since a 61 in the second round of the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational – his last tour victory – was the kind of the start he wanted.

Birdies and eagles were commonplace on a day when the players were able to lift, clean and place their balls on a soggy Sedgefield layout and attack the smooth but softened Bermuda greens.

Derek Ernst, Morgan Hoffmann, Jim Herman and Tom Hoge, a tour rookie and Statesville native, had 63s. Davis Love III, former N.C. State golfer Carl Pettersson and Martin Kaymer, the 2014 U.S. Open winner at Pinehurst, matched Woods’ 64.

As Bill Haas said after a 65, “The course is somewhat defenseless.”

McGirt was first off the 10th tee at 7 a.m. and Hoge in the last group off the first tee at 2 p.m. Both are North Carolina natives – McGirt from Lumberton, Hoge from Statesville.

McGirt, who played at Wofford, had eight birdies in a bogey-free round he called “fairly stress-free.” Hoge, a PGA Tour rookie and former Texas Christian golfer, birdied the final hole to earn a share of the lead.

McGirt has had one top-10 finish this PGA Tour season, has won more than $750,000 and came to Greensboro 86th in FedEx Cup points. He also tied for eighth in last year’s Wyndham, closing with a 64.

Compton’s story is well-chronicled. The former Georgia All-America has twice had heart transplants but has become a solid pro player and said he was not affected by the heat and humidity Thursday.

Compton, 35, took a two-week break from the tour, taking his family to London, and returned to play with a new set of clubs. He also joked that because of a random drug test Wednesday by the PGA Tour, he had a couple of vodka tonics “to get my kidneys going.”

“Maybe I should do that again,” he said, laughing. “I don’t even drink alcohol.”

Herman tied for fourth this year at New Orleans, is close to $1 million in winnings this year and a comfortable 93rd in the FedEx Cup standings. In contrast, Ernst has not finished in the top 10 in a tournament since being a surprise Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte in 2013.

Ernst needs a big week to make it into the FedEx Cup playoffs. The top 125 qualify and Ernest came to Greensboro 178th in FedEx Cup points.

“I know what I’ve got to do and I’ve got to do it,” Ernst said. “Good players play good under pressure.”

Woods used to be that kind of player. He was No. 1 in the world, winning 14 major championships, dominating the sport.

Then, the fall. After being the PGA Tour’s player of the year in 2013, he has had back surgery, revamped his swing – again – and gone into a free fall in the World Golf Ranking to 286th.

Compton said he talked with Woods at the Quicken Loans National a few weeks ago and told him, “Why don’t you play a few events you haven’t normally played.” Compton said he later joked, “Hey, if you play the Wyndham, I’ll play the Wyndham.”

Woods missed the cut in the PGA Championship but committed last Friday to play the Wyndham.

“I’m a nobody but it was good to see him play well,” Comptom said. “Everybody would love to see him playing in the playoffs.”

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip

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