As he walked up the final fairway of Thursday’s opening round at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, tournament leader Ryan Palmer received a timely reminder from his caddie, James Edmondson.
“I was told, ‘If you make birdie, you’ll tie my low round.’ What do you do when you get that thrown at you?” said Palmer, who responded with an approach to five feet and a closing birdie to post a career-best effort of 62 at his home course — the same venue where Edmondson is a three-time Colonial club champion (2006-07, 2012).
“We had a good laugh on that one,” said Palmer, a Colleyville resident and Colonial member who has known Edmondson since the two were golf rivals in high school at Amarillo and Fort Worth Paschal, respectively. “So, now, me and him are tied, I guess.”
Although he only pulled even with his caddie in regard to Colonial bragging rights, Palmer stands ahead of every other pursuer in Fort Worth’s annual PGA Tour stop. Palmer, a former Texas A&M golfer, will take a one-stroke lead into Friday’s second round over fellow Colleyville resident John Rollins (7 under), who also practices frequently at Colonial.
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Palmer began his pursuit of a plaid jacket with an eight-birdie, no-bogey start on a day when 71 of 136 starters broke even-par 70 at Colonial. A dozen golfers, including Fort Worth native John Peterson (64) and Dallas teen phenom Jordan Spieth (65), posted rounds of 5 under or better. But only Palmer posted a 62.
Palmer’s score matched the lowest opening round in tournament history and is one stroke off the course record (61), fired most recently by Chad Campbell, another Colleyville resident, in 2004.
Palmer, 36, unleashed his best driving round of the season (12 of 14 fairways hit) to seize control of the leader board on a day marked by minimal winds and multiple birdie barrages by the touring pros.
“The way I hit it, I drew it up perfectly like I wanted to,” said Palmer, who pulled driver on 11 of Colonial’s 14 driving holes. “This is what I dream about when I play here every year.”
Rollins, who lives within a mile of Palmer in the same Colleyville neighborhood, called it “pretty cool” to have a pair of Tarrant County residents setting the Colonial pace and hopes the trend continues.
“It would be fun if we could fast-forward this to Sunday… and I hope I come out on top,” said Rollins, who capped an eight-birdie, one-bogey effort with a scrambling birdie from the left rough at No. 18.
From all indications Thursday, there are lots of birdie opportunities remaining for Palmer’s pursuers. Matt Every, the 2006 Ben Hogan Award winner, opened with a career-best 65 at Colonial yet shrugged off the significance of his milestone.
“It was pretty easy,” Every said, summing up course conditions. “A low score was out there if you played well. It’s nice, but it means absolutely nothing right now.”
Among those unleashing birdie barrages were Peterson, 24, and Spieth, 19. Both were making their Colonial debuts. Spieth, 19, called his bogey-free effort a “stress-free” performance at Hogan’s Alley.
“It was as stress-free as I’ve ever played a round of golf,” said Spieth, who led Texas to the 2012 NCAA championship in his lone season as a college golfer. “I was able to stay focused… and put myself in position for a good tournament.”
Matt Kuchar (65), the No. 13 player in the world rankings and top-ranked golfer in the Colonial field, did likewise. So did Morgan Hoffmann (64), David Hearn (64), Graham DeLaet (64) and Peterson, a former LSU golfer and Paschal graduate who finished with a lower opening round than Franklin Corpening (68), his former Paschal teammate who also made his Colonial tournament debut.
But the Thursday spotlight belonged to Palmer, who rattled off four consecutive birdies in one stretch (Nos. 14-17) and needed only 25 putts to complete his round. Of his eight birdie putts, none traveled longer than his 17-footer at No. 14 during a stellar day of ball-striking.
Unlike when he competes at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, where Palmer puts Edmondson in charge of club selection to compensate for past struggles at the Irving course, Palmer called all of his own shots Thursday because of his comfort level at Colonial.
“I didn’t even pull out my yardage book except to fill out the scorecard,” Palmer said. “When I see the pins, I can tell [what to hit]. I know everything about the greens.”
Yet despite all that knowledge, the Colonial leader only managed to match his caddie’s best career effort at the course. What’s up with that?
“I don’t know how many guy’s caddies have won the club championship three times,” Palmer said, smiling.
By Sunday, Palmer could earn the tiebreaker. With a victory, he would receive something Edmondson never has collected in conjunction with any of his Colonial club titles: a plaid jacket.