The 31-year-old Noh, whose lone PGA Tour win came in 2014, needed only 21 putts at TPC Craig Ranch as he sank an eagle and nine birdies to tie the tournament’s 18-hole record and season’s low round. Even a cracked driver failed to derail Noh’s quest to become the fourth Korean winner at the AT&T Byron Nelson as he earned his fourth career first-round lead/co-lead on Tour.
Playing on his adopted home course, Dou, who is a Dallas resident, birdied five of his last seven holes to also post his personal low round as he chases a first top-10 finish in his 45th PGA Tour start.
It was also a good day for Korea’s four-time Tour winner Kim Si-woo, who snared seven birdies en route to a 65 while former AT&T Byron Nelson champions Sung Kang and Bae Sang-moon, rookie Kim Seong-hyeon and Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama opened with 66s. Two-time defending champion Lee Kyoung-hoon carded a 70 while playing alongside World and FedExCup No. 2, Scottie Scheffler who delighted his hometown fans with a 64.
“You know, just everything was going amazing,” said a beaming Noh. “Like not perfect, it’s going just amazing today. Off the tee, I missed two drivers because of the crack of the driver’s head. Except for the two shots off the tee through the green, everything was going perfectly. I’m really happy about my career low.”
Needing an eagle on the par-5 18th hole, Noh resisted the temptation to attack the hole where the green is guarded by a creek. He thought about pulling out his 3-wood but opted to layup, which yielded his final birdie of the day.
“It’s like borderline. I’m just trying to make birdie, just forget about the eagle and 59,” he said.
Noh’s putter was also finding its range where he ranked first in Strokes Gained: Putting, gaining some 6.5 strokes over the field. He holed a 40-footer for birdie on 11 and saved par on 16 from 27 feet which helped keep his card clean.
“I have no idea,” Noh replied when asked if he had done anything different with his putting technique. “After making long par putt on 16, I talked to [playing partner] James Hahn, I said, what’s going on, what happened and He said, just don’t think about it, just go play. No idea, just go make everything today.”
Dou, 26, is featuring in his second season on the PGA Tour after regaining his status from the Korn Ferry Tour last year but has struggled for much of the season, missing eight cuts from 17 starts. Things began to look up for him despite opening with a bogey at TPC Craig Ranch, which is a short drive from his home.
“It’s comfortable playing here. Even on the driving range, it feels like you’re at home. I think that’s a big thing for me to play good. It’s almost like the year I played on the China Tour. Every week it feels like so homecoming,” said Dou, who is a three-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour.
“Starting off with a bogey, I didn’t have much thought because I knew I was going to play pretty good, and shots were good, and putting was always good, as usual. So really a solid round,” added the young Chinese golfer, who began using the AimPoint method to read greens recently.
Despite languishing in 164th position on the FedExCup standings, Dou intends to stick to the mantra of one shot at a time over the next few days as he looks to turn the corner. His year has been hampered by coming down with Covid-19 and suffering from a sore right wrist.
“Just play like today, not much thought, because haven’t had too good of a season, but this is a good start. I don’t want to fill myself with too many thoughts in my mind. Just kind of play as today hit good drives, hit good iron shots and make some putts. I think I’ll accept anything with the score if I can do that,” he said.
BY CHUAH CHOO CHIANG [email@example.com]