The first round of The American Express was a bit short on star power at the top, but it still produced an interesting leaderboard heading into Friday’s second round. Brandon Hagy leads after firing an 8-under 64 on the slightly easier Nicklaus Course (both the Nicklaus Course and Stadium Course are being used this week for the full-field event).
The entire board behind Hagy is severely bunched up as nearly 40 players are within four of his 8-under lead. At one point on Thursday, 14 (!!) golfers shared a tie for first place. Given the construction of this board and the fact that Hagy has never won as a professional, and the entire event is wide open.
Let’s take a closer look at Hagy’s first round as well as where some of the stars in this tournament ended up after 18 holes.
1. Brandon Hagy (-8): Hagy — who got in the field because Jon Rahm withdrew on Monday — is an unbelievable driver of the ball who struggles with his iron play. Though he’s made nearly $2 million over the course of his career, his best finish on the PGA Tour is a T5 at the 2017 Canadian Open. On Thursday, he made 10 (!!) birdies and said after his round that he was hitting his irons much better than he did last week at the Sony Open when he lost nearly eight strokes to the field overall and missed the cut. He’s a show when he’s on so hopefully he’ll be on for the rest of the week.
2. Ben An (-7): An does what Hagy does not. He’s an elite iron player who just cannot putt. He putted plenty on Thursday, though, as he also played the Nicklaus Course and was flawless in a bogey-free 65. An has far more staying power at the top of this board than Hagy, but a shootout between those two over the next three days would be a delight.
T3. Max Homa, Martin Laird, Si Woo Kim (-6): Homa is quietly progressing with each year (on Jan. 1 of each of the last four years, his Official World Golf Ranking has been better than the year before). He’s been solid over the last few years from tee to green, but he needed just 25 putts on Thursday en route to his 66 on the Nicklaus Course. He’ll probably be the favorite if he backs it up with another 66 on Friday.
T15. Tony Finau (-4): Finau had one of the best rounds of anyone who played the Stadium Course, and it was incredible to watch (as it always is). Though you can drive it all over the yard on this track, Finau’s move seems to only get shorter and quicker, and oh yeah, he was top five in the field in driving distance. He’s among the new favorites and actually was the favorite until a bogey at the last.
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T15. Patrick Reed (-4): Reed put a 7 on his card but led the field in putting to keep himself in it. That’s sort of what he does, although the ball-striking will have to be much better over the next 54 holes if he’s going to win this event for a second time.
T103. Brooks Koepka (E): The four-time major champ was disappointing on Thursday, especially playing the easier Nicklaus Course. He said this week that he feels healthy and there’s no reason to not play well. Thursday update: He did not play well. The disappointment comes from believing that somebody of this caliber should go out and get it done early at an event where he’s clearly the head of the class (when healthy). Instead, he just meanders to a 72 and will have to fight to make the cut.
T120. Rickie Fowler (+1): Fowler showed up looking like he was headed over to Burning Man in the desert after a quick stop at this professional golf event, and the golf was not great either. Fowler made six bogeys on the day, and his march toward getting into the 2021 Masters is not off to a grand start.
T132. Phil Mickelson (+2): Lefty said earlier in the week that if he does not play well on the PGA Tour he’s going to consider playing more on the PGA Tour Champions. That looks like the direction this is probably going to go.