The American can steal No. 1 back from McIlroy, Hovland lurking and a Molinari sighting on tour for the first time in months
Worldwide by name, worldwide by nature. With the PGA Tour in Mexico for the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, it's the fourth country the tour has visited in the seven fall tournaments this season after playing in the US, Japan and Bermuda.
Will Gordon, a Korn Ferry Tour graduate, leads at nine under par after a sensational 62, which was one shot off the course record at the par-71 El Camaleón Golf Course. Veterans Russell Henley (63), Scott Piercy (64) and Francesco Molinari (64) also put their names in the mix, while Sweden's David Lingmerth, defending champion Viktor Hovland and Scotland's Martin Laird (65) are among a group of players at six under.
The international flavour is just one of the takeaways from Round 1 at Mayakoba. Here are a handful of other observations:
World No. 1 watch
The golf world welcomed Rory McIlroy returning to World No. 1 for the first time in more than two years when he won the CJ Cup in South Carolina last month. But McIlroy's ninth stint as top dog is under threat by the guy he usurped, Scottie Scheffler. The reigning Masters champ and PGA Tour Player of the Year could reclaim the top spot with a victory or a solo second place this week. Scheffler shot a well-balanced 65 on Thursday with three birdies on both nines and no bogeys. The Texan attributed his blemish-free round to solid approach play.
"I hit a few shots today that were like really, really close to the hole," he said. "[The birdie on] No. 4 was really close, and No. 5 was a tap-in. No. 9 may have been the longest birdie putt I made today and it was like seven feet. I hit it to about two feet on 11. I had a tap-in birdie on the par 5 [13th], and on 16, I hit it to like a foot for a birdie."
Tap in birdies will certainly not hurt Scheffler's quest to get back to No. 1.
Defending champion in the mix
Scheffler played alongside Hovland, who has won the past two years at Mayakoba. While there are still three rounds remaining, Hovland gave himself a chance at a three-peat in Mexico with a 65. [Sidenote: The last player to win a PGA Tour event three years in a row was Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic from 2009-2011].
Hovland got off to a quick start Thursday with four birdies and an eagle for a front nine of 30 before cooling down with an even-par back nine.
"I think the last two years I've started [with a] four and five under [opening rounds], so I improved on that," Hovland said. "I made a couple putts and holed out from a bunker; I did a lot of good stuff today. But at the same time, I felt like I hit some really bad shots, too. So I feel like there's still opportunities to improve."
When in Rome
Molinari, who played the fall solely on the DP World Tour before this week, got his PGA Tour season off to a flyer Thursday with eight birdies and a bogey for a tidy 64. The 2018 Open Championship winner is hoping to qualify for the European team for the next year's Ryder Cup in his homeland of Italy, and not have to lean on captain Luke Donald for a pick when the cup heads to Rome in September.
A hero of the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, Molinari will have his work cut out; he is well outside the standings for Europe given his recent T-9 at the DP World Tour's BMW PGA at Wentworth was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-6 at the PGA Tour's American Express back in January.
With Rome on his mind, Molinari is hoping to make a statement over the next three days at Mayakoba.
"I think [El Camaleón] is a course that should suit my game quite well," Molinari said. "I was happy to come back and hopefully improve the performance from [a missed cut at the event] last year."
Lingmerth finding form
After earning his PGA Tour card back from the Korn Ferry Tour last season, the 35-year-old Lingmerth has struggled with missed cuts in his first three events back on the main tour. But Lingmerth, who won Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament in 2015 as his lone tour win, has started to turn things around with a T-11 at last week's Bermuda Championship before a 65 on Day 1 at Mayakoba.
"I feel like I've been striking the ball fairly well and just not getting anything out of it [because] I haven't been putting very well," Lingmerth said after his round. "Last week in Bermuda I struck the ball really well and [for the] last round I feel like I was starting to hit a lot of good putts and they were dropping. I was hoping to be able to carry some of that over into this week. So far so good."
Lingmerth, who is based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., owns two of the more random facts on the PGA Tour's website when it comes to player bios. The first is his uncle, Goran Lingmerth, was a kicker for the Cleveland Browns in 1987. The second gem? "Not many people know he can play the drums." - Golf Digest