The PGA Tour’s return to Michigan on Thursday at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club was marked by low scores and loads of fireworks. Over 80 percent of the field shot par or better on this apparently easy track, and scores this weekend could get into the mid-20s if Thursday is any indication. We have a fun leaderboard and an unlikely (but easy-to-root-for) leader. Let’s dive into Round 1 of this event and go deep on what took place in Detroit.
First place — Nate Lashley (-9): The lead likely won’t last for Lashley, who gained most of his strokes with the putter. But if it does, it would be quite the story. Lashley’s tale is a devastating, but hopeful one of loss and a changed life at a young age. His best-ever finish at a non-opposite field event was at the Desert Classic this year where he finished T12. Him winning the Rocket Mortgage would be the feel-good story of 2019.
Last place — Lee Houtteman (+8): He was the only golfer who shot 80, and he did it every way possible. Houtteman finished in the bottom 10 in the field in driving, approach play and wedge play. The “best” part of his game on Thursday was his putting, where he lost over two strokes to the field.
Other contenders — Ryan Armour (-8), Nick Watney (-8), Chez Reavie (-7), Charles Howell III (-7), Rory Sabbatini (-7), Kevin Kisner (-6), Cam Champ (-6): Reavie going back to back after not winning in over a decade would be chef’s kiss good. As for the biggest names in the event — Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama — they’re all 4 under with only Dustin Johnson scuffling at 1 under and outside of the cut line.
Who had a great day? Charles Howell dropped a tidy 65 and did it the right way with a lights-out performance from tee to green. Howell gained three of his four and a half strokes from tee to green, despite being one of the old men in the field.
Who had a lousy day? Oklahoma State golf had a tough day despite having two golfers inside the top five. That’s because it had three inside the bottom nine with Matthew Wolff (+3), Morgan Hoffmann (+4) and Zach Bauchou (+4) all struggling to the finish. Also, U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland was 1 over in his return to golf.
Stat of the day: This is truly crazy.
Shot of the day: Fowler dunked one early in his Round 1 en route to a 4-under 68 and it stood up all day as the best shot of the first round.
What to watch on Day 2: I’m intrigued by the D.J. bounce. He hasn’t missed a cut since 2018 Open Championship, but he’s in a bit of limbo here. Does he hit the eject button or roll back with a 64 to pound his way up the board? He’s (by far?) the biggest talent in the field so it would be a shame to see him exit early on with tons of scoring on deck at Detroit Golf Club over the weekend.