OMAHA, Neb. -- Personal bests, career lows and tournament records are once again the norm as the annual birdie fest known as the 17th annual Cox Classic opened on Thursday. Rookie Luke Guthrie, Bubba Dickerson and Aaron Goldberg all posted 9-under 62s in the first round at Champions Run to share the 18-hole lead.
Jim Herman shot 63 and is in fourth place, while Russell Henley, Fabian Gomez and Nate Smith are tied for fifth with 64s. Five others are knotted a 6-under 65 as the par-71 layout played to an average of 68.929 and 110 players in the field of 156 shot below-par scores.
“You have to stay on the gas pedal this week,” said Herman, who missed the cut at last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in Ohio. “After Columbus, where par is awesome and birdie is a luxury, you get here and you better be making birdies.”
Guthrie did his part with a dozen, matching the Web.com Tour’s all-time record for the most birdies in a single round. Not bad for a 22-year old making his fifth professional start.
“I looked at the scores from last year and saw the winning score was around 20 under,” said Guthrie, who will return to the University of Illinois later this month to finish up 13 credits for his degree. “In college I liked the courses that were a good, hard test of golf, where par is a good score. Obviously you have to go really low out here. If you shoot 1 or 2 under around here, you can get passed in a hurry.”
It didn’t take Guthrie long to figure out what everyone else knows. In Nebraska, it’s go low or go home. The average winning score in the tournament’s 16-year history is 21.625 strokes under par.
Guthrie’s 62 is even more impressive given the fact that he overcame a bogey and a double bogey.
“The longer you go without making a birdie, the tougher it is to be patient,” said Dickerson, who has three top-20 finishes in five previous starts. “I’ve played here long enough to know scores would be low. You wait for your run.”
Dickerson started with three pars before beginning his run. He chalked up five birdies in a row on the back nine, beginning at No. 13. On the front, he belted driver to within three feet at reachable par-4 fourth hole to get to 7 under. The former U.S. Amateur champion added two more birdies and faced a downhill 3-footer for birdie at the ninth for a round of 61.
“I played it inside right and just played too much break,” he said. “It hit the hole. It hit a lot of the hole but spun out and wound up five feet for par.”
Dickerson rolled that one in to gain a share of the lead with Guthrie, who posted his 62 in the morning session.
Goldberg followed Dickerson’s group and smacked driver at the par-4 ninth – a hole that measures only 315 yards from the back tees and has been the easiest par 4 on Tour the past six years. Goldberg rolled in his eagle putt from 15 feet to cap off a 7-under 28 on his closing nine.
“Regardless of the course, you still have to hit good golf shots and make good putts. Out here, this week, you have to make more putts,” said Goldberg, whose previous career best was a 63 on this same course a year ago. “Situationally, I’m hitting it the same. With wedges and short irons I’ll go at the pin, but if I’ve got a 5-iron or something in my hand I will probably be more conservative.”
--Thursday marked the 48th consecutive day without any measureable rain at the Champions Run course.
--Luke Guthrie is making only his fifth start as a professional but he continues his red-hot summer. Since turning pro after the NCAA Championships, Guthrie has four top-20 finishes and has earned $371,071 in that span. In three PGA Tour starts, he finished tied for 19th at the FedEx St. Jude’s Classic, tied for fifth at the John Deere Classic and tied for 18th at the True South Classic. Last week at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, he lost a playoff to Ben Kohles. His scoring average for his first 17 rounds as a pro is 67.88.
--Luke Guthrie’s 12 birdies tied the Web.com Tour’s all-time record for most birdies in a single round. He is the fifth player in Tour history to register a dozen birdies in one round and the second to do it at Champions Run. Only one of the previous four players went on to that event. Guthrie is the first one to have more than one bogey on his card.
--Since the tournament began in 1996, the average winning score at Champions Run has been 21.625 under par. Chris Smith was 26 under (258) when he won in 1997 and Bo Van Pelt was 26 under (262) when he won in 2003.
--Only four first-round leaders have gone on to win this tournament in the previous 16 years. Bo Van Pelt, who opened with an 8-under 64 in 2003, was the last one to do it.
--Ben Kohles, winner of last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, shot a bogey-free, 6-under 65 after he birdied four of his final six holes. Kohles became the first player in Tour history to win his professional debut when he defeated Luke Guthrie in a playoff last Sunday.
--Brian Stuard had a string of six birdies in seven holes. He birdied 4-5-6 and 8-9-10 en route to a 5-under 66. Brad Elder also had a string of six birdies in seven holes. He birdied 2-3-4 and 6-7-8 en route to a 6-under 65.
--Jim Herman and Luke Guthrie both posted a 6-under 30 on the back nine. Herman’s 63 is one off his career-low round. He shot an 11-under 61 in the opening round of the 2010 Moonah Classic (Australia), which he went on to win.
--Brad Elder’s 6-under 65 is his best round of the year and only the seventh time he has broken par this year in 26 rounds. Elder tied for seventh at the Chile Classic but has missed the cut in 10 straight starts coming into this week.
--Russell Henley’s 7-under 64 is his best round of the year, his best round as a pro and his best round on the Web.com Tour. He is making his 21st career start on Tour, and is in his rookie season after capturing last year’s Stadion Classic while competing as an amateur. Henley’s best finish this year is a tie for ninth at the Utah Championship and he entered the week No. 88 on the money list.
--Aaron’s Goldberg 9-under 62 is a career-best for him. His previous low was an 8-under 63 in the first round of this event last year.
--Bubba Dickerson’s previous career-low round was a 10-under 62 in the first round of the 2008 Henrico County Open, and he tied for fourth that week. “This one was a lot different,” he said. “When I shot that one, I was up by five.” On Thursday, he ran off a string of five consecutive birdies starting at No. 13. The tournament record is eight in a row by Jason Gore in fine round in 2005.
--Omar Uresti (69) hit 14 of 14 fairways. Doug Labelle, winner of the Utah Championship, hit 13 of 14 fairways, 18 of 18 greens and shot 66. Seven players -- John Chin (68), Ben Kohles (65), Alex Prugh (68), Brad Adamonis (68), Aaron Goldberg (62), Justin Hicks (67) and Andrew Svoboda (65) – hit 17 of 18 greens.