John Huh ran in five straight birdies and added a long eagle putt to shoot a career-low, 9-under-par 61 and take the first-round lead Thursday at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Huh leads South Korea’s Sungjae Im by two shots at the PGA Tour’s regular-season finale. Peter Malnati and Brandon Wu are tied for third at 6-under 64.
Huh, 32, needed a good showing this week at Sedgefield Country Club to ensure his berth into the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He entered the week 111th in the points standings, with 125 qualifying for the first leg. Huh would shoot up to 39th if the tournament ended on Thursday.
“I’m actually surprised I’m at the top of the leaderboard, yeah, to be quite honest with you,” Huh said. “I didn’t really feel my game was there, but it’s one of those days where I took advantage of some good shots and good breaks, I think.”
Huh made six birdies for a front-nine 29, including five in a row at Nos 4-8. His 10 1/2-foot putt at the par-4 sixth was the only birdie tap outside 10 feet.
At the par-5 15th, he drove the green in two and drained a left-to-right eagle putt from 38 feet out before adding his final birdie at No 17.
“I knew it was going to be a quick one,” Huh said of the eagle putt. “I hit a good stroke, hit my line. I was hoping to go and I got lucky that it hit the flagstick and went in the hole.”
Im had two eagles on his card, making a 15-foot putt at the par-5 fifth and a 21-footer at No 15. His 63 featured just one bogey and gave him good standing to try to finish the regular season in the top 10 in FedEx Cup points. He entered the week 15th.
Wu made six birdies for a bogey-free 64, while Malnati bogeyed just once and eagled the fifth with a 28-foot putt. Both are comfortably in the field of 125 for the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
“Maybe like 110th is maybe the lowest I’ve gotten on the FedExCup (leaderboard),” Malnati said of his season. “But I’ve hung out in that range where it’s not completely comfortable, but I’ve never felt like my back was completely against the wall either.”
A large tie at 5-under 65 included Brian Stuard, Aaron Wise, Austin Smotherman, Ben Kohles, Alex Smalley, Ryan Moore, Australia’s Cameron Percy, Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello and Canada’s Michael Gligic.
Smotherman entered the week as the last man in the field of 125. After a bogey-free round with five birdies, he’d be safely in the playoffs if the Wyndham Championship ended on Thursday.
Similarly, Stuard entered the week No 137 in the standings and is projected at No 124 based on Thursday’s leaderboard. Though he knows what’s at stake, he said he doesn’t feel much pressure.
“I don’t have much to lose,” Stuard said. “I’m kind of not in a real good spot, so just trying to figure out how to play some good golf again and see what happens.”
Another player not in a good spot: Rickie Fowler.
He entered the week No 123 in the points standings and is in danger of missing the cut and losing his chance at the FedEx Cup Playoffs following a 1-over 71 Thursday.
Leading first-round scores on Thursday in the US PGA Tour Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina (Par-70, USA unless noted):
61 - John Huh
63 - Im Sung-jae (KOR)
64 - Peter Malnati, Brandon Wu
65 - Brian Stuard, Cameron Percy (AUS), Aaron Wise, Austin Smotherman, Ben Kohles, Alex Smalley, Ryan Moore, Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP), Michael Gligic (CAN)
John Huh of the US plays a shot on the first hole during the first round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina. (AFP)