Justin Rose feeds his lockdown hunger and Harold Varner III pays tribute with a 63

A brilliant seven-under 63 from Justin Rose set the stage for a much anticipated Charles Schwab Challenge. Harold Varner III matched Rose a little later in the day. Jhonattan Vegas, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Abraham Ancer shot 64.

Justin Rose at the Colonial Golf Club - Image from Rose's Twitter Feed

11 June 2020: Hunger has strange powers. A starving Justin Rose produced three birdies in his first four holes to feed his appetite for golf upon the game’s return to action at the Colonial Golf Club in Fort Worth, Texas. The Englishman shot a 63 in the opening round of the Charles Schwab Challenge, the first professional golf tournament on the PGA TOUR since it went into suspension midway through the Players Championship.

Rose took advantage of relatively benign morning conditions to score seven birdies in his first twelve holes in a rousing return to golf to secure the clubhouse lead over Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Jhonattan Vegas and Abraham Ancer. Each of them made 64 to tap on the heels of Rose.

Harold Varner III, playing for far more than silverware this week, set out to celebrate the #BlackLivesMatter campaign in the United States with an inspired effort. Varner played some clean golf to work his way to an inspired 63, for a share of the lead. The PGA TOUR observed a minute of silence at 0846hrs, to commemorate the amount of time George Floyd is alleged to have been pinned under the knee of the murderous cop, Derek Chauvin.

“If I’m thinking about winning a golf tournament right now, I’ve probably lost it,” Varner said. “Yeah, I know what’s going on, but when I’m on the golf course, I’m trying to play well. The reason I have a platform is that I am really good at golf. I just need to focus on that.”

The leader Rose shot four birdies on the outward stretch after starting off the tenth tee. He added meat to his card with three straight birdies after making the turn to secure the lead. He won the title in 2018.

“It kind of feels like a competitive practice round,” reflected Rose. “But obviously, I think we all know what’s on the line. We all know what we’re playing for. We all know the competition this week especially, the field is incredible. Obviously, we miss the fans. They definitely provide a ton of energy and atmosphere.”

Tom Lehman, Adam Hadwin, Daniel  Berger, Gary Woodland, Bryson DeChambeau and Brian Harman scored 65 each to fill up the leaderboard with some low scores. Tyler Duncan, Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele joined them later in the afternoon groups.

Tom Lehman - Ralph Freso - Getty Images - PGA TOUR
Tom Lehman – Ralph Freso – Getty Images – PGA TOUR

Lehman is nearly 61 and the 1995 winner missed just three fairways and three greens during his impressive round, marked by accuracy and discipline. On that occasion, Lehman shot 67 before going on to win by one over Craig Parry with an overall score of 9-under 271.

“Do I feel like I’m capable of shooting a 65 out here at Colonial? Well, for certain I do,” Lehman told the PGA TOUR. “Did I expect to do it today? Well, I would be probably lying if I said I fully expected to play and shoot such a low score. But I did expect to play well.”

“I think the opportunity to play and to play in a tournament that I love so much and that I’ve had some success at and I’m part of the history here, that’s kind of what drove me to want to do it,” said the 1996 Open Championship winner. “If it would have been the second week back, third week back, fourth week back, it would have been the same feeling for me.”

Sungjae Im made five birdies and a bogey on the third for a solid 66. Branden Grace, Corey Connors, Cameron Champ, Ian Poulter, Ryan Moore and Vaughn Taylor also shot 66 on the par-70 course at Colonial. Jazz Janewattananond was two-under through ten holes before winding down for an even 70.

Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth were stuck on even par through eight holes. Rory McIlroy scored the second birdie of his round on the eighth to move to one-under, as Byeong Hun An (through 6) and Tony Finau (through 7) were also on the same score.

Sung Kang made a hole-in-one on the 13th hole and only learnt of it as he approached the green. The silence that surrounded the round on Thursday was both a reflection of the new realities for sport and the sombre circumstances that pervade the United States.