STATELINE – In four previous trips to the American Century Championship, Derek Lowe has never scored more than 44 points.
After one round of the 28th annual event at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, Lowe is more than halfway to his previous career best after totaling 25 Friday to take the first-round lead.
Lowe leads Mardy Fish by a point and San Jose Sharks star Joe Pavelski by two points. John Smoltz, two-time defending champion Mark Mulder and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers are tied for third with 22. Alfonso Ribeiro is seventh at 21, and Chad Pfeifer and Mark Modano are tied for eighth with 19 points.
“I’m just excited,” Lowe said. “Going to be nervous as heck tomorrow, but it should be fun. For me, driving was good. I hit a lot of drivers. I was lucky enough to miss only one fairway and it makes the game a lot easier.
“I’m going to go see Lenny Kravitz. I think the beauty of this tournament as a whole, good, bad or indifferent, you have to enjoy the atmosphere. You have to enjoy the evenings. Going to have a great dinner, they do a great job, and go watch Lenny Kravitz, and try again tomorrow.”
Lowe said he worked on his game a lot since last year, but his improvement may be more mental.
“I live in Florida. You get to play definitely a lot,” Lowe said. “But I think the biggest thing is a different mindset; just try to be aggressive. Don’t try to just make pars and when you have a good opportunity to try to make a putt, don’t lag it up there. So it’s one day, but I’m excited.”
Fish had two birdies in his first three holes, but finished the front nine with six straight pars. On the back nine, he birdied the par-4 13th and then eagled the par-5 501-yard 18th.
“In this format, things can turn right away, and for me that was the last hole,” Fish said. “I went from maybe birdieing or parring that hole and having a bad day to now.”
On the 18th, Fish unloaded a drive of approximately 390 yards, leaving him a full 54-degree wedge into the green. One putt later, he had six points instead of one or three.
There certainly was room for his improvement, but Fish was happy with the start.
“I haven’t played all that much, so my wedge distances were off,” he said. “We were putting defensively a lot. Obviously I would play, probably play better if I played a lot. But I don’t know if that’s the case today.
“I do know that the little amount that I do play I don’t have a lot in my head as far as thought process of my swing.”
Pavelski, who finished 10th last year in his ACC debut, was considered a darkhorse prior to the tournament. He finds himself in the thick of things after his 2-under-par 70 and 23 points.
Pavelski, whose Sharks were eliminated early in the playoffs compared to 2015 when they made the Stanley Cup Finals, admitted the extra rest has helped get his game in shape.
Pavelski had three birdies and just one bogey en route to a 2-under 70. He birdied the par-4 6th and the par-4 8th. He finished strong with a birdie at No. 18.
“When you play to the middle of June, it’s kind of tough to get into your rhythm with golf,” Pavelski said. “You need a little bit of extra time off when you lose out early. You don’t want that, but when it does happen you’ve got to be smart with it and gotta use it.
“I definitely would rather be playing until June 15 and have the golf game a little bit squirrely, but it was good today, so hopefully it will continue.”
Pavelski said he worked on alignment since last year.
“Just take the club back (straight),” he said. “My swing is pretty simple. I just try to take it back straight and not get too quick with it.”
Rodgers shot 74 despite five three-putt greens. He eagled No. 4 and birdied Nos. 8, 11 and 17.
“I putted terribly actually,” Rodgers said “I had five 3-putts and still shot 74, which means I was actually hitting the ball pretty good. I came out and 3-putted two of the first three holes, and then I hit over the green on No. 4 and chipped in for eagle, so that kind of got my round going from there. It was a good round for me.”
“Putting is usually about all I have going for me in my game. I’m usually a little wayward. But today I hit the driver straighter than usual and it left me with a lot of wedges into the greens, and I’m decent with a wedge in my hands. If I can get top-20 that’s my goal, and I’m sitting here in fourth.”
Smoltz registered three birdies and one bogey. He finished his round with eight straight pars. On par-5s, he had three pars and a bogey.
“Yeah, except for the par-5s,” Smoltz said when asked if he was happy with his round. “I didn’t take advantage of them, and that is usually my strength.
“I’ve finally learned how to putt. You can’t lip them in here. You have to hit them center cut.”
Mulder had three birdies in his first seven holes, but his game stalled at that point. Over his last 11 holes, he had just one birdie, three bogeys and seven pars.
“I was trying to get something going on the front nine,” Mulder said. “I made, I think, three birdies and after that couldn’t get anything going after that. For the most part I hit a lot of balls to 15 or 20 feet and just didn’t make any putts.
“And that’s the way this goes. There is a lot of really good players. As short as the course plays, it becomes a putting contest between the better players. If you don’t make putts, you’re not going to be at the top of the leaderboard.”