FORT WAYNE – Ryan Blaum has the lead after the first day of the Hotel Fitness Championship – he shot an 8-under 64 Thursday at Sycamore Hills Golf Club – and he was excited to pull it off despite some struggles.
“I played solid but on the back side, my rhythm got a little bit off,” said Blaum, 30, who ranked 31st this year on the Web.com Tour with $114,580 in earnings. “I got it back together the last few holes and made three really good par saves, which is big momentum. I just tried to keep my head down and play my game today and it was good.
Blaum's late-afternoon play was good enough to surpass Greg Chalmers, who teed off in the second group at 7:41 a.m. and led most of the day with a 65. Tom Hoge, in the second-to-last group, also posted a 65.
Chalmers was more blasé about his place on the leader board.
“I could tell you stories about putts that I missed, but I could also tell you stories about some 20- or 30-footers that went in. I'm old enough to know you take what you get and you've got to be pleased,” he said.
In fourth place at 6 under are Derek Fathauer, Bud Cauley, Sam Saunders, Dicky Pride and Tony Finau.
Last year, the tournament was won by Trevor Immelman at 20-under. And while the course has undergone renovations aimed at making it more difficult, the players didn't have much trouble Thursday.
“Look, I got off to a great start,” Chalmers said. “The conditions were perfect this morning. I birdied the first two holes and was 3-under through four. I really built on that momentum throughout the day.”
Chalmers has been a full-time PGA Tour player since 2009 and this year made the cut in 16 of 27 events, winning $578,979 and finishing ranked 132nd in the FedExCup standings.
“(Low scores are) out there if you drive it in play,” he said. “I shot a nice round and it's the first day. I'm more excited that it's the lowest round I've shot in a while. It hasn't been the greatest year for me, so to go out there and play like that is nice.”
Hoge, 25, spent this season on the Web.com Tour, winning $72,616 for a ranking of 65.
“You're going to need to shoot a 6- or 7-under at least once out here this week,” Chalmers said.
The field includes players in the top 75 on the Web.com Tour and Nos. 126 to 200 in the FedExCup rankings. Through the four-tournament Finals, 25 PGA tour cards will be determined for next season.
“My strategy will not change,” said Fathauer, 28, who ranked 13th on the Web.com Tour with $218,052 in earnings this year. “I had a strategy that I drew up during my practice rounds and in the Pro-Am (on Wednesday). … I just want to hit fairways and greens out here. You can tell where the pins are located and the sides to miss it on, if you're going to miss a shot. So, just don't short-side yourself and get it on the greens. The greens are perfect, rolling well.”
Cauley, 24, played 19 PGA Tour events this year – he earned $647,886 and was 143rd in the FedExCup rankings – and last year he tied for fifth here at 17 under. Saunders, 27, is the grandson of Arnold Palmer.
Not everyone thought the course played easy, though.
“You're going to have to go out there and make some birdies,” said Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion, who shot a 71.
“The course is definitely playing harder than last year. There's a lot more rough and the ball is not running as far in the fairway, so it's playing a lot longer. I'm not sure the scores will be as low as last year.”