NAPA, Calif. — After taking a much-needed seven-week break from the PGA Tour to hit the reset button, Lucas Herbert showed little rust on Thursday.
The 27-year-old Australian reeled off six straight birdies on the back nine at Silverado’s North Course to post 9-under 63, matching his career low and grabbing a two-stroke lead over S.H. Kim after the first round of the Fortinet Championship.
“Found a little groove there,” said Herbert, who just started practicing again less than two weeks ago. “It felt like anything I did poorly seemed to work out nicely for me and the good shots got rewarded as well.”
Herbert, who won twice in 2021, including his third start as a member on the PGA Tour, was mired in a slump last season that left him ranked 152nd in the FedEx Cup standings. With only the top 70 advancing to the Playoffs in August, Herbert shut his season down after missing the cut at the British Open in July.
“Golf’s been getting me down pretty hard this year. It was just a tough stretch there where I had a lot going on both in my life and on the golf course as well,” he explained. “I didn’t really want to think about golf or talk about golf for about a good month there, just needed to get away from the game and refresh everything. Yeah, it sucked, I’d love to be here or up on the FedEx Cup standings as we speak, but hopefully taking that good break, refreshing, have a little reset gives me a better chance to play well in the fall season and get some better results and get into the bigger events again next year.”
Herbert said he spent time in Maine, including meeting members of his girlfriend’s family for the first time, and enjoyed playing guitar and working on the home he bought in Orlando in March.
“I went and spent some time around people where I wasn’t the main focus of everyone’s life for the day. I was able to go and be a part of other people’s lives, which is something we don’t get to do as golfers,” he said. “I feel like coming here this week I was ready to play again. I think for a while there it felt like if my flight got canceled to a tournament and there was no other way to get there, I would have been happy to go home, like, oh, good a week off. I feel like if that happened this week, I would have been upset, I was ready to go. That sort of tells me I was back in a good frame of mind to be able to come out here and just deal with adversity when it comes on the golf course.”
Here are four more things to know about the first round of the Fortinet Championship.
Thomas in ‘a good head space’ after 69
Justin Thomas is Mr. Positive these days.
He’s positive his game is close, he’s positive he’s going to get back to the winner’s circle soon and he’s positive he’s going to keep grinding away to be the player he was and knows he can be again.
Thursday’s opening round of the Fortinet Championship was a step in the right direction as he posted a 3-under 69 despite hitting just 3 of 14 fairways at Silverado Resort’s North Course.
“Today wasn’t a day with how I hit it I was going to shoot 6 or 7 under,” he conceded. “I just needed to make sure that I managed a decent score, and 3 under with how I feel like I hit it is a great thing.”
Mr. Positive said he’s “in a great head space,” too.
“At least I was today. I just was very patient. I was very pleased and happy with how quickly I felt I got into it and focused,” he said. “I think sometimes after some time off it’s hard for me to get back into it, but I didn’t feel very competitively rusty. I just, I enjoyed it and I was very engaged and focused on what I was doing, I just wasn’t exactly doing it how I wanted to. But I still stayed positive and just kept doing the best I could.”
Thomas made birdies at Nos. 6 and 8 before making his lone bogey of the day at the ninth to shoot 34 on the front and added two birdies on the back nine at 12 and 14. Thomas was playing for the first time since the Wyndham Championship on Aug. 6 after missing the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
“A big kind of goal I had today was try to step on that first tee and hit that first shot like I’ve been playing for months, and haven’t really taken any time off competitively. I felt like I did that and yeah, so that was a good thing, for sure,” he said.
Keeping with his positive talk, Thomas said he managed his game well despite missing fairways – he ranked T-146 in fairways hit in the first round.
“I didn’t hit particularly well, especially the front nine, but kind of kept searching, kept fighting,” he said. “I felt like I was close, and some of those drives I was just missing left.”
Thomas headed to the range with caddie Bones to test a driver shaft he has been toying with and said how his range session went would likely determine whether he stuck with his gamer or made a change for the second round.
Homa in the hunt for three-peat
Two-time defending Fortinet Championship winner Max Homa made a double bogey at 13, but five birdies on the day, including a chip-in at No. 4. That hole-out wasn’t quite as dramatic as the one he made at No. 18 to win the tournament a year ago, but it counts the same.
“It’s funny, I keep those memories in such a nice place in my brain, but at the end of the day, still got to come out here and try to do your best to put yourself in a position to win again,” Homa said. “You can only enjoy it for so long, then you’ve got to get back to work.”
Homa is seeking to become the first player to win the same Tour event in three consecutive years since Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic (2009-2011).
Biondi’s living his dream
Fred Biondi, the reigning NCAA men’s individual champion and a former member of the championship-winning University of Florida team, made his PGA Tour debut as a professional Thursday.
Biondi, 22, received a sponsor’s exemption and posted 1-under 71 at Silverado Resort’s North Course.
“I had a blast out there. It’s a dream of mine, playing on the PGA Tour. It came true, so it was great. I enjoyed it,” he said.
Biondi, who played in the 2022 U.S. Open as an amateur, turned pro at the BMW Charity Pro-Am on the Korn Ferry Tour. By virtue of finishing second-place in PGA Tour University, Biondi has full status for the remainder of the KFT season.
“We’re very lucky to have that,” said Biondi, who made five birdies and four bogeys on Thursday. “Many people didn’t in the past. It’s a very awesome opportunity that PGA Tour U gave to college players. It made college golf more important, I think, and it was great.”
Welcome back to Holmes, Kisner
J.B. Holmes and Kevin Kisner made their return to the PGA Tour for the first time since the Travelers Championship in June.
Holmes, 41, missed the cut in Hartford and has been sidelined ever since with a back injury. A five-time winner on Tour, most recently at the 2019 Genesis Open, has missed the cut in seven of his nine events in 2023, including the last four and withdrew from the Wells Fargo Championship before the tournament got underway. On Thursday, he opened with a 1-under 71, which included an eagle at 15.
Kisner, 39, is a four-time Tour winner, most recently at the 2021 Wyndham Championship, withdrew from the Travelers. He has missed the cut in his last four starts and withdrew from his two other starts. He hasn’t recorded a top-10 finish since the 2022 Travelers. But this year’s tournament was a microcosm of his season.
Asked the low point of his season, Kisner cited his tee shot at the 13th hole in Hartford.
“I said, ‘Dewey, I know this ball is going in this lake, you know this ball is going in this lake, and I’m pretty sure everyone who’s standing around here knows this ball is going in that lake,” Kisner recounted on the Fore Play podcast. “Then I stood up there and hit it right in the lake. I was like, All right, I’m done.”
Kisner, who entered the week at No. 202 in the FedEx Cup standings, carded six birdies on Thursday and shot 69.