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Rookie nerves, a ‘mini-moon,’ and free rolling among the 5 things we learned at the first round of 2022 Fortinet Championship

NAPA, Calif. – When Justin Lower chipped in for the second time of the day at Silverado Resort’s North Course, his new caddie, Chad Gonzales, turned to the other caddies in his threesome and said, “Time to go buy a lottery ticket.”

It was that type of day for Lower, who holed out on Nos. 5 and 7 en route to making birdie on the half the holes and opening a three-stroke lead when was play was suspended due to darkness in the first round of the Fortinet Championship.

Lower was the hard-luck loser, who three-jacked the 72nd hole of the regular season-ending Wyndham Championship from 61 feet to miss out on the FedEx Cup playoffs and, even worse, lose his status. In the aftermath, he gave an emotional interview.

Lower was exiled to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals to try to earn his card back. He had competed in the first two events and likely had locked up his Tour card for the new season with good finishes, but none of that mattered when six players defected to LIV Golf and Lower was suddenly full-exempt for the coming season for the first time in his career.

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“It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” he said. “It sucked but it turned out for the better. … I’m just happy to be here.”

And taking advantage of his opportunity he did. Lower’s 63 was a career low for him on the PGA Tour and it marks the first time he’s held the lead after any round out a Tour event.

Here are four other things we learned during the first round of the 2022 Fortinet Championship.

Rookie nerves

Michael Kim hits his tee shot on the sixth hole during the first round of the 2022 Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa North course in Napa, California. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

S.H. Kim made it look easy Thursday, shooting 6-under 66 in his PGA Tour debut. But on the inside it was a different story.

“I haven’t felt this nervous,” he said. “If I had to pick one event, maybe in contention on the Korn Ferry Tour down in Lake Charles maybe compared to the nerves, level of nerves I had today, and even at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals I felt comfortable but today, just because this is my debut on the first season of PGA Tour, I felt a little nervous. … Definitely the first two holes I was really nervous, nerve wracking, but then I had a birdie on No. 3 and a couple more birdies after that, I felt more comfortable.”

Kim wasn’t alone. There are 27 rookies in the field this week and that led to plenty of first tee jitters.

“That first tee shot was different,” Nico Echavarria said. “Obviously we’ve played with pressure, that pressure I felt on the last round last week or two weeks ago (at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship) was as big, but this is a little different. It’s a bigger stage. And obviously the situation shouldn’t change, but you just don’t feel the same as you felt on Korn Ferry, to be honest.”

“It’s probably one of the most nervous times I’ve had on the golf course for some reason,” said Taylor Montgomery, who shot 68. “I mean, I played in a couple U.S. Opens and I don’t know what it was.”

Sigg’s 'mini-moon'

Greyson Sigg putts on the 14th hole green during the first round of the 2022 Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa North course in Napa, California. (Photo: Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Greyson Sigg flamed out of the FedEx Cup Playoffs in Memphis. What’s he been doing since?

“The week after Memphis I didn’t do too much, I sat on the couch for about two weeks, I was pretty tired, and then got married last week,” he said. “It’s been a busy last week, pretty tired getting out here, but there’s something to be said with coming out to a tournament with really no expectations and coming out and playing good.”

The wedding was held in the Highlands of North Carolina and fellow Tour pros Stephen Jaeger, Keith Mitchell, J.T. Poston and Sepp Straka.

Asked if this week’s trip was doubling as a honeymoon, he said he planned things pretty well, but said it was more like a mini-moon than a honeymoon. That’s still to come.

Theegala’s week of rest

Sahith Theegala hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during the first round of the 2022 Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa North course in Napa, California. (Photo: Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

And for seven days, Sahith Theegala rested.

Theegala, who made 33 starts last season, made it all the way to the Tour Championship in Atlanta as a rookie. How did he spend his brief “off-season?”

“I took seven straight days of no golf,” Theegala said, noting it was his longest break since he had wrist surgery in 2019. “I’ve gone three, four, five days, but seven days? I got the itch back pretty quick after that. I’m excited for the longer off-season though because then I can actually shelve the clubs for a bit.”

Theegala’s game showed little rust from the abbreviated layoff, posting 5-under 67 in the first round. The 24-year-old continues to say he’s on a free roll as he’s gone from no status to Korn Ferry Tour graduate to one of the promising stars on the PGA Tour in rapid fashion.

“This year seems to be even more of a free roll for me because I got the nerves of being a rookie and certain expectation out of the way, and now it’s my second year and I’m playing all these events again for the second time,” he said. “I feel like I have more flexibility and I’ve learned so much the last year.”

An returns to the big leagues

Byeong Hun An reacts to a par on the seventh hole during the first round of the 2022 Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa North course in Napa, California. (Photo: Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Welcome back, Ben An.

The 30-year-old former U.S. Amateur had played on the PGA Tour for six seasons until he finished 161st in the FedEx Cup in 2020-21 and had to spend the previous year on the Korn Ferry Tour.

“Every year was better,” he said. “Then last year was a big struggle and that kind of hit me pretty hard in my head and OK, I’ve got to start putting more time to practice and everything. … I told myself let’s get back to the Tour as soon as we can.”

An made the most of his return, shooting 6-under 66 at Silverado Resort’s North Course, tied for third with S.H. Kim and three strokes behind Justin Lower and one behind Max Homa.

An rode a hot putter, making birdies at his first three holes of the season and holing a 34-foot birdie putt at No. 6.

“Putting saved me today,” said An, who gained nearly three strokes on the field with his short stick. “I saw my putting coach (John Graham) this week and tweaked it here and there, but basically same thing we’ve been working on. There’s no magic juice or anything to putt well. We’ve been working pretty hard with this and some days you’ll putt better than other days and today was definitely on the better side of it.”

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