26 February 2021: Seventies and Anirban Lahiri seem to be a thing at the Puerto Rico Open. He shot a fifth straight 70 at the tournament, the four 70s last year landing him at T44. On Thursday, Anirban found himself in a dense battle against the course at the Grand Reserve Country Club before securing an under par score with an eagle on the 18th hole. Arjun Atwal has been tending to his father and hasn’t played since November last year. He bounced back from a tough start to shoot one-under 71 in the opening round. Tommy Gainey came home to a breezy finish with five birdies on his last seven holes for a 65 to take the lead.
Anirban had three weeks off after the Farmers Insurance Open. He has been playing some good golf recently, but he is still searching for the consistency that can allow him the performances that truly represent his talent and hard work. The Puerto Rico Open could be a great week to start a hot stretch as the PGA TOUR travels closer to his home around Florida. Since the Sony Open in January, Anirban has shot five rounds in the 60s, the kind of golf that could set the tone for the success he craves in his seventh season on the biggest golf tour in the world.
On Thursday, Anirban took off like a rocket, firing three straight birdies from the second hole. He went past the bend in 33 strokes and looked set for a solid opening round. But a bogey on the tenth and thirteenth holes put the brakes on him. A birdie at the 15th helped provide relief, but he suffered some more with back to back bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes. In typical fashion though, the 33 year old showed great belief on the par-5 18th, reaching the edge of the green in two strokes before chipping in for an eagle to end the day on a high.
Atwal had a shaky start. He conceded two bogeys in the first four holes as he returned to action for the first time since the Bermuda Championship. He rebounded with three birdies in six holes and kept his card clean through the remaining fourteen holes as he coasted to a 71. The legendary Indian, the first and only Indian to win on the PGA TOUR has shown some promise in recent times. He shot 66s at both the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the 3M Open in July.
It has been a long time since Gainey recorded his lone victory in the PGA TOUR. The 45-year-old from South Carolina won the RSM Classic (then called the McGladrey Classic) in 2012. He enjoys a one-stroke lead over Rafael Campos, Robert Garrigus, Taylor Pendrith, Lee Hodges, Greg Chalmers, Fabian Gomez and Brandon Wu.
“It’s windy. It’s Puerto Rico,” Gainey said. “I’m just glad that it’s 80 degrees outside, because back in South Carolina, all it is, is 40 degrees and raining. So, I’m just glad to be in some hot weather. Wind, I can deal with. But I just hit it really good today.”
The winner of the tournament receives a two year exemption and an entry into the PGA Championship in May.
“Hit it 12 feet on No. 11 and then three-whacked it,” Gainey said of his three-putt bogey on the par-3 eleventh hole. “So I’m not happy about that, but really happy at bouncing back with a birdie on 12. Just showing a little resilience and confidence to come back from a bogey, because when you three-putt from 12 feet, come on, let’s be honest, that’s bad.”
Anirban and Arjun have their work cut out on Friday. Even as the former pushes forth to rise up the order, the latter has work to do before he can start thinking of the weekend. Datagolf gives him a 64% chance of making the cut, likely to be 1-under or thereabouts.