By David Brandt/The Associated Press
MADISON — Tim Petrovic has finally found a way to beat Mississippi’s suffocating July heat without the help of air conditioning, sweet tea or a swimming pool.
He’s doing it by playing good golf.
“When you’re hitting it like I hit it today, making some putts, you don’t tend to sweat so much,” Petrovic said. “Makes your life a little easier.”
Petrovic fired a 7-under 65 on Thursday morning in the first round of the Viking Classic at Annandale Country Club, joining John Mallinger, Brendon de Jonge, Peter Lonard, Sunghoon Kang and Bobby Gates in a six-way tie atop the leaderboard.
Frequent thunderstorms over the past several days left Annandale’s Bermuda grass soft – especially in the morning. The PGA allowed players to lift, clean and place balls in the fairway, which helped keep scores low throughout the day.
“When you get the ball in the hand all the time, you can be a little more aggressive at the flag,” said Mallinger, who birdied six straight holes at one point during his morning round.
With the vast majority of the world’s best players competing thousands of miles away at the British Open, the Viking Classic leaderboard was loaded with names rarely seen so high at a PGA event. Gates, Mallinger, Gomez, de Jonge and Kang have never won on tour while Lonard and Petrovic have one victory each — both in 2005.
Because it’s the same week as the British Open, the Viking Classic’s reward of 250 FedExCup points and $3.6 million total purse are about half that of a normal tour event.
Lonard, a 43-year-old Australian, made the most of his first round on the PGA Tour since 2009, sinking birdie putts on his final two holes to climb into a share of the lead. He’s played 11 Nationwide events this year, and his 11th place finish in the Mexico Open two weeks ago was his best of the season.
He was a late addition to the Viking Classic field on Monday and couldn’t get a flight to Mississippi until late Tuesday night, but the lack of a practice round at Annandale didn’t keep him from a good start.
Most players left Annandale in a good mood on Thursday, thanks to a slew of birdies that led to 106 players finishing at par or better, including 18 with bogey-free rounds. Scoring stayed low throughout the day, though the heat appeared to take its toll on the afternoon groups. Five of the six leaders played morning rounds.
Temperatures reached the mid-90s by mid-afternoon, and the heat index was above 105.
Petrovic said a rumor among players earlier in the week was that the tour would allow players to wear shorts, but “that one got washed down the drain really quick.” The 44-year-old instead settled for cutting an inch off his long blond hair that still nearly comes down to his shoulders.
Maybe that helped his putting touch. He needed just 26 putts to navigate the course, making seven birdies in a 12-hole stretch during the middle of his round.
“The greens are rolling so pure right now,” Petrovic said. “If you just hit it straight, you’ve got a really good chance.”
Scott Piercy briefly charged to the top of the leaderboard at 8 under through 13 holes after a run that included five birdies in seven holes. But he double bogeyed No. 5 and No. 7 and ended the day at 5 under.
Nine players, including 50-year-old Kenny Perry, were tied for second place at 6 under.