RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — The PGA Tour Champions officially returned to the Coachella Valley on Friday for the first round of the Galleri Classic, and the desert made a strong impression on the players.
“It’s beautiful. It’s probably as good a conditioned golf course as I’ve seen for a long time,” said Richard Green, one of six golfers tied for third place after an opening-round 5-under 67. “Everything about the place is beautiful. The greens are perfect, fairways, everything’s perfect. It’s beautiful scenery. It’s wonderful. I’m kind of liking it.”
Green was one of many golfers who took advantage of the perfect weather and conditions on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, to score well in the opening round of the inaugural tournament. But even Green’s 5-under round left him tied chasing first-round leader David Toms.
With a scorching 5-under 31 on the back nine, Toms completed a 7-under 65 to be the first-ever leader of the Galleri Classic. And like most of the golfers in the 78-player field, Toms shot his round on a golf course he had never seen until this week.
“As many years as I’ve played in the desert out here in the Palm Springs area, I’ve never been over here, so it was nice to get over here and see this place,” said Toms, the 2001 PGA Championship winner and a three-time winner on the PGA Tour Champions including earlier this month at the Cologuard Classic in Arizona. “It shapes well off the tee. You really have to hit your tee ball good to have a chance to score well, and I did that today and that was really the key.”
Toms tops a leaderboard that includes past major winners like Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh, who are both in a six-way tie for third at 5-under with Green, Rob Pampling, Rocco Mediate and Brett Quigley.
That group is one shot behind Kevin Sutherland, who was bogey free in his round for a 66. Some of the bigger names in the field, including Fred Couples (68), Steve Stricker (69) and Bernhard Langer (69), are lurking a few shots back but are still in contention with two rounds to play.
Langer, looking for a record-setting 46th career PGA Tour Champions win, birdied three of his first five holes Friday, but he then put together 13 consecutive pars, using 30 putts in the round while hitting just 10 of 14 fairways.
Toms, 56, started his round slowly with one birdie and one bogey in his first six holes. After that, Toms turned his game around mostly on the greens.
“Obviously, my speed was good on the greens today,” Toms said. “That was the key to my round. We did a pretty good job of reading them. I would say the front nine I misread a few putts, but the back nine for some reason I got a feel for it and started making them.”
Toms birdied the 10th and 11th holes, then added birdies on the 15th, 16th and 18th holes for the 65. The putting helped Toms overcome a course that requires precise driving, he said.
“I know there used to be even more trees, but there are quite a few trees. They’ve got some rough, which we haven’t seen on our tour here lately,” Toms said. “Even with good tee shots, you are going to miss some fairways because there is so much slope, you get it going the wrong way and it runs just into the rough.”
Green, a rookie on the PGA Tour Champions with just seven senior starts to his credit, was happy that almost no one else in the Galleri field has much experience on the Shore Course.
“It was good fun today. It was nice to sort of get a few birdies,” Green said. “You know, I had been probably putting a little bit of pressure on myself the last couple weeks and getting a little bit ahead of myself whereas today I just sort of relaxed and came out and focused on the beautiful scenery and the place. Just let the game flow a little bit, that was nice.”
Green played a consistent round, shot 34 on the front nine with one bogey and 33 on the back nine to share the early lead before Tom’s late birdie burst. With just two more rounds to play in the 54-hole PGA Tour Champions format, Green said he needs to stay relaxed.
“Just similar stuff to what I’ve been doing today, just staying very much in the moment and trying not to put too much pressure on myself, keep executing good shots and that’s what it’s going to take,” he said.
Toms said if conditions remain as good as they were for the first round, the scoring will continue to be low.
“You just don’t know what the wind is going to do,” Toms said. “(Thursday) afternoon I played the pro-am and we had quite a bit of wind, it was tough to score. Guys who played in the morning, they were talking about (the course) was pretty gettable. Just depends on how that holds up.”