GREENSBORO — Over the last few holes of Thursday’s opening round of the Wyndham Championship, William McGirt didn’t have trouble getting the ball in the hole — his best putting stretch of the day included a 15-foot par save at the sixth and a 26-foot make for birdie at the eighth.
But anyone watching could sense that bending over to get the ball out of the hole was a challenge.
McGirt battled a back injury — reaggravated by an awkward shot from the face of the bunker on the fifth hole, his 14th of the day — while also dealing with a sinus infection. All things considered, an opening round of even-par 70 which left him tied for 79th wasn’t a bad score.
“I feel so bad it’s not even funny,” said McGirt, who needs a top-two finish to retain his PGA Tour status in the Tour’s regular-season finale. “All things considered it wasn’t too bad — but it would’ve been nice to actually feel halfway decent for my last event, give myself a chance. It stinks — but I’m fine with whatever happens.”
The Fairmont native was never under par at any point in the round, primarily hovering around even or 1 over for the duration of the round. He began the round with bogeys on his first two holes, No. 10 and 11, before a strong two-putt par up a slope from 42 feet on the 12th and a nine-foot birdie make at the 13th helped stabilize the round early. A bad break at the 14th led to another bogey and he sat at 2 over par.
“I thought I fought pretty hard today,” McGirt said. “Some of my best shots — that tee shot on 10, starting out, could not have been any more perfect, and somehow kicks left twice and ends up in the bunker. I hit a great shot into 14, it hits the top edge and kicks it up against the back lip (of a greenside bunker), no chance. A foot here, a foot there, it might’ve been a little bit better.”
McGirt got up-and-down for birdie from short of the green on the par-5 15th, then birdied the par-4 17th from seven feet.
The scorecard was more steady on the front nine, with one bogey at the third and one birdie at the eighth.
A point for improvement was mid-range putting; every bogey except the one at the 14th was from the six- to eight-foot range and two birdie putts from inside 15 feet couldn’t find the bottom of the cup.
“I hit a couple good ones that didn’t go in today,” McGirt said. “But I made a good one on (No.) 6 to kind of save everything. So all in all it wasn’t (bad).”
Looking ahead to Friday, McGirt will likely need to shoot 67 or 68 to make the cut, which is the top 65 players and ties. While dealing with the back pain — which McGirt described as “like somebody’s sticking an ice pick above my belt on my right side” — he said he hopes treatment after the round Thursday will help ease the pain for the quick turnaround for Friday’s round. McGirt tees off at 7:45 a.m. on hole No. 1.
Huh leads Im by two strokes
It didn’t take putts from all over the Sedgefield greens for John Huh to go low. That came after a career day in ball striking.
Huh made six birdies in a front-nine 29, en route to a 9-under 61 and the Wyndham Championhip first-round lead. The Californian leads South Korea’s Sungjae Im by two strokes, with Peter Malnati and Brandon Wu each three back at 6 under par.
“Well, I think I hit it close enough, gave myself a chance,” Huh said. “The longest putt I think I made was a 15-, 20-footer for eagle, but other than that, I put it pretty much inside 10 feet and made all that.”
All six of Huh’s front-nine birdies came from inside 11 feet. After pars on six straight holes, from No. 9 to 14, Huh made a 38-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th, then added a four-foot make at the 17th.
“I didn’t really feel my game was there, but it’s one of those days where I took advantage of some good shots and good breaks, I think,” Huh said. “I hit a good stroke (on No. 5), hit my line. I was hoping to go and I got lucky that it hit the flagstick and went in the hole. It was just one of those holes where you hit your spot and hopefully it goes in.”
Huh is seeking his second PGA Tour win after the first came over 10 years ago, in February 2020 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
A three-hole stretch of 4 under par keyed Im’s round, as he also eagled the 15th then birdied No. 16 and 17. But he wasn’t done with the eagles, making three at the par-5 fifth, adding birdie a hole later at the sixth.
Im, the 15th-ranked player in the FedExCup standings, entered the week as one of the tournament favorites. He has two PGA Tour wins, one each in 2020 and 2021.
Malnati also made an eagle, at the fifth, and shot 32 on each nine in a 6-under 64. Wu was 6 under in a nine-hole stretch, including three consecutive birdies at holes No. 15-17, to match Malnati’s score.
A nine-way tie for fifth at 5 under par includes Rafa Cabrera Bello and 2009 tournament champion Ryan Moore. J.T. Poston, the 2019 champion, is among the players tied for 14th at 4 under; Zach Johnson and Jason Day are part of an 18-way tie for 23rd at 3 under.
Harold Varner III matched McGirt at even-par 70, as did 58-year-old Davis Love III, who in a grouping of three past tournament champions beat both perennial Wyndham contender Webb Simpson (1-over 73) and defending champion Kevin Kisner (3-over 73). Those weren’t the only big names to struggle Thursday; Will Zalatoris, Rickie Fowler and Shane Lowry each also shot 1-over 71, while Justin Rose shot 3-over 73.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.