Golf

Unheralded pair leads after first round at Honda

Cody Gribble tees off on the 12th tee during the first round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Thurs., Feb. 23, 2017, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Cody Gribble tees off on the 12th tee during the first round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Thurs., Feb. 23, 2017, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. AP

The Honda Classic prides itself on the big names it attracts to take on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens.

Rightfully, so.

However, on Thursday, it was two lesser-known names — Cody Gribble and Wesley Bryan — who teed off early and spent almost the entire day at the top of the leaderboard, shooting 6-under-par 64s to tie for the first-round lead.

Gribble and Bryan both have had reasonable success, but c’mon, admit it, you probably aren’t familiar with who they are. That’s OK, neither of them is that concerned with the recognition factor — or the lack thereof. They spent the day concentrating on their swings.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s a great start,” Gribble said.

“I love this place, love this golf course,” Bryan said. “I had a great day.”

Although they feel pleased with their opening rounds, Gribble and Bryan — both 26 — know all too well that one day does not a PGA tournament victory make.

No matter what happens in this tournament, Gribble is certain he’s in a much better place than when he was mowing grass and cutting holes at the Brook Hollow Golf Club while attending and playing golf at the University of Texas. After college, he turned pro in 2013.

In October 2016, Gribble, a left-hander, won his only professional title, the PGA Tour’s Sanderson Farms Championship. He probably would not have been invited to this year’s Honda except for that victory.

“This is one of the tournaments I like to play,” Gribble said. “I played it well in Q-School a couple of years ago. I’ve got some good memories.”

Bryan’s claim to fame is a stellar 2016 season on the Web.com Tour, winning three tournaments and being named the tour’s Player of the Year. That earned him fully exempt status on the PGA Tour, and a week ago he finished in a tie for fourth at the PGA’s Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club.

A trick-shot artist at times, Bryan was happy he did not have to rely on that ability Thursday.

“It’s so difficult and challenging around the greens,” he said of the Champion Course. “It’s a big, long golf course, tight fairways, and most of the teeth come from 30 to 40 yards in.”

Ryan Blaum, 33, of Miami, had an admirable opening round, shooting 67 to stand just three strokes back of the leaders.

Blaum’s golf journey has been a long one. Since he graduated from Westminster Christian in 2002, he has played on the European Tour, Canadian Tour, LatinoAmerica Tour, Web.com Tour and, certainly his favorite, the PGA Tour.

Where were golf’s big names at the Honda? Within shouting distance, for the most part.

Martin Kaymer and Anirban Lahiri were tied for third after shooting 65, one stroke back of the top two.

Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter were part of a fifth-place logjam of seven players at 66.

Sergio Garcia and defending champion Adam Scott remained close after 68s, but one of the pre-tournament favorites, Justin Thomas, stumbled to a 71.

Heading into Friday’s second round, Gribble — who has missed the cut in his past four tournaments — described the fickleness of a professional golfer’s life.

“It clicked in the first round,” he said, “but you don’t know, it could be lost in the second round.”

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