When the most-watched video of your season is a five-putt from five feet, it has not exactly been a year to remember, but Jeff Maggert is trying to change that with a new putter and his No. 1 fan in the gallery at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
Maggert, who has put together a solid pro career, fired an 8-under 63, with nine birdies and one bogey to grab a one-shot lead over Bernhard Langer on Thursday in the first round at Phoenix Country Club.
Langer is trying to win the Charles Schwab Cup Championship for a record sixth time and the fifth time in six years. Three others were two shots behind on a day that was ripe for low scores with perfect weather and pristine course conditions.
Maggert started this week with a visit to Ping, his equipment sponsor, and picked up a new putter that he credited with his solid first round.
“I’ve been kicking myself pretty hard the past few months,” he said. “This is the last tournament of the year and I feel like I can come out and still play pretty well.”
That hasn’t been the case for much of this season, as Maggert joked, “I was ready to drive my clubs over with my car in the driveway, just not having a lot of fun.”
Maggert has won three times on the PGA Tour and has played in both the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. His five wins on the Champions Tour including four in 2015 when he captured two major championships, was named Player of the Year and appeared ready to take the tour by storm. But he hasn’t won since.
“To be honest, I haven’t played that great for a couple of years, so I’m kind of looking forward to having a chance on Sunday, really just to be close to the lead,” he said. “But that is a long way from now.”
Maggert left many golf fans cringing in March when he five-putted from five feet on the final hole in the first round of the Hoag Classic in Newport Beach, California, turning a birdie into a triple-bogey and shooting 5-over 77. The video has been watched thousands of times on the Internet, but is not one Maggert cares to replay.
A win here would most certainly top that “highlight,” which might require some aggressive play if scoring conditions remain ideal as they were in the first round.
Many players described the conditions as “perfect,” including the putting surfaces, which Maggert said were “fantastic.”
“I would say Augusta National-style greens,” he said. “They’re putting fast and firm, and that’s the way we like them.”
Those conditions were reflected in the scores as 28 of the 34 players shot under par and the average score was 3-under 68.
While the conditions might be ripe for aggressive play, Paul Goydos thinks the scoring might be attributed more to the current state of tour golf, with so many players taking a grip-and-rip mentality.
“The problem with protecting par is with the combination of the weather and the course, the scores are going to be low,” said Goydos, who won this event in 2016 at Desert Mountain and was among three players two shots off the lead.
“You’ve just got to put the pedal down and keep going but I don’t know if I would use the word aggressive because I don’t know that I play it any different than any other course, quite frankly.
“Golf is now aggressive regardless of the situation. We’ve turned into a bunch of guys who just hit it at the flag every time and accept what happens. That’s why you are seeing a lot more rounds with 10 birdies and four bogeys instead of four birdies and 14 pars.”
Maggert said he took an aggressive approach off the tees, but noted that the key to keeping his lead might be having his wife, Michelle, watching from outside the ropes.
“This is the first tournament she’s been to since Hawaii (the season opener),” he said. “She came out of retirement to watch me today, so I’ll give all the credit to her. She was my good luck charm today.”
Scott McCarron came into this event leading the season-long points race for the Charles Schwab Cup, which comes with a $1 million annuity. Jerry Kelly is second in points and either could claim the Cup by winning this event. Kelly got off to a solid start, shooting 5-under 66, which left him three shots behind, while McCarron shot 68, putting him five shots back.
Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Retief Goosen also could win the season championship but each of them would need to win and would need McCarron and Kelly to falter with low finishes.
Three Valley residents are in the field and all three struggled Thursday. Ken Tanigawa shot 1 under, Tom Lehman was 2 over and Kirk Triplett had the day’s highest score of 6 over.