If the PGA Tour was a horse race, then golfer Charley Hoffman would be considered the rabbit, the catch-me-if-you-can speed demon that jets to the front of the pack, and then tries to hold on when the late charge comes running.
The problem with Hoffman is that he usually gets caught – he has just three wins in 293 events during a 16-year career. And he’ll be the target again this weekend at the Valero Texas Open after fashioning a 6-under-66 in the first round of play Thursday at the rain-saturated Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio and taking the clubhouse lead before play was ended.
But Hoffman may already be an afterthought. Later in the day, Brendan Steele, the 2011 Texas Valero Open champion, passed Hoffman by racking up eight birdies in his first 14 holes before play was halted by darkness at 8:10 p.m. CDT.
Steele will be one of 72 golfers that will have to return to the course at 8 a.m. on Friday morning to finish their first round before teeing off for the scheduled second round.
Hoffman had seven birdies and a single bogey on his card despite the fact that the morning round was interrupted for three hours and 33 minutes due to rain. Hoffman was on his second hole when the horns sounded for the competitors to suspend play.
“Six-under-par is always good on this golf course or any golf course,” Hoffman said. “This course from tee to green is very visual, shapes with the trees and it’s a tough driving golf course. I tend to play well here and hopefully I can keep it going and have a chance on Sunday.”
Hoffman hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation despite finding the fairway on just eight of his drives and needed only 26 putts on his round. Two of Hoffman’s birdie putts were from less than five feet while his longest was just 22 feet.
Hoffman has won three times on tour, most recently the OHL Classic at Mayakoba last year. He led after the second round of the Shell Houston Open just three weeks ago but faded to a tie for 33rd after going 6-over in the last two rounds.
“Looking back through the last month I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself to get that W,” Hoffman explained. “It’s been good and I’m focused on the process. I’ve won before and I’ve come back from bad Sundays. This happens to be a stretch I haven’t played well on Sunday but I know I can.”
If there was one guy who didn’t want to see the sun set on Thursday, it was Brendan Steele.
Steele, starting on the back-nine, birdied his first three holes, added another at the 14th and then fashioned four more in succession on holes 18, 1, 2 and 3.
Stuart Appleby of Australia and Peter Malnati completed their rounds and were one shot back at 5-under 67. Steve Flesch was in the clubhouse at 4-under 68 while Patrick Reed (through 13 holes) and Freddy Jacobson of Sweden (through 10) were at 4-under when the day ended.
Malnati’s round came with an eagle on the par-4 17th when he holed a wedge from 94 yards away in the fairway.
“That was cool,” Malnati said. “Hitting wedges has become to be one of my strength because I don’t hit it very far, you know. I haven’t been that good lately. It started to feel like it was getting dialed in last week at Harbour Town. To actually make one today was fun.”
Zach Johnson, a two-time winner of this event when it was played at the La Cantera Golf Club, is among a pack of 10 players at 3-under 69.
Defending champion Jimmy Walker struggled to a 3-over 75 and has a ton of work to do if he’s going to get back into contention.
“It was kind of a bummer to play bad on a pretty easy day when there wasn’t much wind, so I’m not real pleased with the day,” Walker said. “I didn’t make any birdie putts today but I had some good par putts. I drove it poorly.”
Phil Mickelson was at 1-over with three holes still to play in his opening round while Bryson DeChambeau, who transitioned from a low amateur to professional in the span of weeks, was at 2-over after 12 holes.
*Top Image: Brendan Steele tees off on the 18th hole during the first round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks Course on April 21, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images.