GREENSBORO — Among those in one of the first two groups off the tee, John Huh remained first for the entire opening round of the Wyndham Championship on Thursday.
Huh fired a sparkling career-low 9-under 61 and took a 2-shot lead over Sungjae Im. Peter Malnati and Brandon Wu are another shot back.
“I’m actually surprised I’m at the top of the leaderboard, yeah, to be quite honest with you,” Huh said. “I didn’t really feel my game was there, but it’s one of those days where I took advantage of some good shots and good breaks, I think.”
And while Huh, Im and others found Sedgefield Country Club’s par-70 course ripe for the taking, it was not the same for some of the crowd favorites such as Rickie Fowler and former Wake Forest golfers Webb Simpson and Will Zalatoris.
Huh proved to be a bit of a surprise. Approaching the end of his 12th season on tour, he has one victory and hasn’t finished in the top three in any tournament since 2018. His best finish in 23 starts this year is a tie for ninth at the Honda Classic. He has failed to make the 36-hole cut in three of his past five starts and 10 times total.
But he has gone low at Sedgefield before, shooting a 62 in the second round in 2013.
“It’s kind of strange because like earlier I mentioned, I didn’t really feel great with my game, and I shot my career low, it’s kind of weird,” Huh said. “Sort of mixed feelings, but I’ll take this any day. I was able to take advantage of a good break and good shots, that’s all I can say today.”
Im, who is ranked No. 21 in the World Golf Rankings, is the second-highest rated player in the field. Starting on the back nine, his eagle on 15 started a run that was followed by birdies on 16 and 17. He bogeyed No. 4 then eagled the 5, the other par-5, 5 and birdied 6.
Peter Malanti and Brandon Wu shot 6-under 64 and tied for third. Alex Smalley, who played at Duke and was playing at his home course, fared the best of those with local ties as one of nine who tied at 65.
Smalley, who was among those who played in the oppressive afternoon heat as large fans moved air through open-air spectator seating areas, made three birdies on the front nine and three borides an a bogey on the back nine,
“I’d be ecstatic if I shot 5 under any other day, but it’s kind of weird, sometimes you have good days where it just doesn’t feel like super special or anything,” Smalley said. “I guess today was just one of those days where I just kind of felt like I did everything average. My putting was really, really good, but other than that, everything just kind of felt average. I didn’t feel like I hit very many balls close to the hole. Well, super close, like within 5 feet, but I had a lot of 10- to 15-footers or so, and I just happened to make a few of those.”
Smalley indicated his home course advantage was small.
“The greens are a little quicker,” Smalley said. “There were actually a lot of ... (pin placements) that I’ve never seen before today, some that I was pretty shocked at.”
Simpson, Fowler and Zalatoris both shot 1-over 71 and are in a huge group tied for 108th as 78 shot 1-under or better. Former winners Davis Love III and Jim Herman, plus ECU grad Harold Varner III, were among 29 were at even par.
Simpson’s round was surprising since he won here in 2011 and has been a consistent top-10 finisher since. But he has struggled most of the season posting just one top-10 finish and is in danger of failing to make the cut for the fourth time in six events.
“I’m in the midst of playing some frustrating golf, but I really feel like I’m very close.” Simpson said. “I know you guys hear us say that a lot, a lot of times I think people, myself included, we say it and we don’t really mean it, but I really do mean it. Yeah, I’m just trying to work through a couple more things that I’m working on on the range. It’s getting better, yesterday in the pro-am it was better. It’s just not quite getting into tournament golf yet.”
Zalatoris, who at No. 14 in the World Golf Rankings is the highest-rated player in the field, wanted to get off to a better start than he has in most tournaments this season as he still seeks his first victory after runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.
Instead, he was just 1-under before four-putting a finishing double-bogey on No. 9.
Fowler, who is in danger of not qualifying for the FedEx playoff opener next week if he misses the cut, bogeyed his last two holes.
Defending champion Kevin Kisner and former U.S. Open champ Justin Rose both shot 73 and are tied for 132nd.