With consecutive rounds of success and an old putter in his bag, familiarity was the key to Retief Goosen’s success at Hualalai Golf Course on Thursday.
The South African finished the first round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai with a 10-under 62 and the sole lead in the tournament. Goosen has posted the lowest score for the last two rounds of the tournament, as he finished last year at Hualalai tied for fourth with a final round of 8-under 64.
“I’m putting really well. I put an old putter back in the bag that I used a few years ago and it’s working out very nicely,” Goosen said. “I played a couple of rounds last week back in Orlando and I wasn’t putting very well. I had like four putters on the putting green, just going through things, and then I pulled this one out and thought ‘Oh, that fits quite nice, maybe it’s time to put it back in the bag.’”
He birdied six of the front nine holes for a one-stroke lead over Darren Clarke, who posted 63 in his tournament debut.
Goosen is bogey-free over his last 28 holes at the tournament, which celebrated its 25th year at Hualalai Golf Course on Thursday without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I saw the greens yesterday in the pro-am. I made nine birdies and today I made 10 birdies. So I’m seeing the lines very well on the greens at the moment and the putter’s working,” Goosen said. “The golf swing itself is a little raw. I must say I’m not striking it that good off the tee especially, but the fairways are wide here so you can get away with some bad drives.”
After coming off the 14th hole with his 10th birdie of the day, Goosen managed to make par on the final four holes, even with the wind picking up late in the afternoon to help send the ball into the bunker on the 17th and 18th fairway.
“I hit a good shot on 17, it just got up into the wind. Suddenly we had a wind change there in the last 20 minutes,” Goosen said. “And at 18 I hit a very poor 3-wood off the tee right on the heel of the club, went nowhere. But I hit a good little chippy 9 out of the bunker; the ball wasn’t lying very well.”
Goosen’s 62 matched his best round as a professional.
“Going into that wind’s not easy to get the right distance,” he said. “It would have been nice to make the putt, that would have been my lowest round as a professional. I shot 10 under quite a few times, but never gone lower than that in a round.”
Thursday was Clarke’s first start since winning the TimberTech Championship in November, and he’s looking to keep the momentum going into the second and final rounds this weekend.
“I don’t know how I’m going to play the next couple of days, but it’s nice to open the season on the Champions Tour with 63,” Clarke said. “Anytime you shoot 63 it’s good, but to do it at the start of the year is especially nice.”
Tied for third heading into Friday’s second round is Scott Parel and Jerry Kelly, who both shot 8-under 64.
“You know, I do play pretty well the first round, it’s sometimes the second round that I kind of get stuck in neutral a little bit and then usually play really well the last day,” Parel said. “I think this week you’re going to have to play pretty darn good all three days to have a chance to win.”
Rounding out the top five was tournament rookie K.J. Choi with a 6-under 66.
Last year’s champion Miguel Angel Jimenez finished the first round 3-under 69, tied for 14th with Doug Barron, Shane Bertsch and Ernie Els.
The tournament at Hualalai normally serves as the opener of the tour’s season, but is currently a continuation of last year due to the pandemic shutting down the tour for several months.