The Masters. The PGA Championship. The U.S. Open. The Open Championship. And the Sanderson Farms Championship. All majors to Davis Riley. They’re playing the Sanderson at the Country Club of Jackson, in Jackson, Miss., Riley is born and raised in Hattiesburg, about 90 minutes south, and this week is as big as they come. “Yeah, anytime I can get close to home and be back in Mississippi, it’s special,” Riley said Wednesday. “Sanderson Farms was one of the first tournaments that I got one of my first PGA starts at, so it’s always had a special place in my heart, and this is my fifth major, so it’s definitely one I’ve had chalked up on the calendar and would have liked to have a chance to win at one day.” On that front, he’s a quarter of the way home.
Here, then, are three things you need to know after Thursday’s first-round play.
Davis Riley and Will Gordon lead
No one on Thursday was better than Riley or Will Gordon, who each shot six-under 66s and led by a stroke over seven players, by two over four players, and by three over 11 players.
For Riley, homecoming hasn’t been easy; in three previous starts, he’s missed the cut twice. On one hand, he’s playing before friends and family and is close to home, and that’s ideal. At the same time … he’s playing before friends and family and is close to home, and that’s a lot.
“I think that’s probably why I haven’t played my best golf here in the past just because it’s right down the road,” Riley said Thursday. “I have so many friends and family here. I want to perform. It just would be a really, really special tournament to win.
“Yeah, that’s the thing. I just have to take it day-by-day and treat it like every other tournament. It’s easy to put that added pressure on yourself, but I just think that hinders you from playing your best golf. Why I haven’t played my best here in the past.
“I’m going to take it day-by-day and continue the stress-free golf that I played today.”
President Cupper Christiaan Bezuidenhout a shot back
Among those a shot back were President Cupper Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Andrew Putnam, Brandon Matthews, Kevin Yu, Mark Hubbard, Thomas Detry and Trevor Cone, and Nick Taylor, S.H. Kim, Kevin Roy and Russell Knox were two back.
“Yeah, I traveled well today,” Bezuidenhout said. “On this golf course you have to come out of the fairway to firm greens, so you have to play the golf course out of the fairway, which I did great today.
“Gave myself lots of looks for birdies. Hit a lot of greens. Actually, I think I only missed one or two. Good greens today, so yeah.”
Defending champ Sam Burns is four behind
Among those two back is another Presidential Cupper, Sam Burns, last year’s defending champion here. He and 17 other golfers each shot 70s.
“With the wind, had a ton of holes that were crosswind and just didn’t really get a lot of quality looks,” Burns said. “When I did, just didn’t seem to quite make them.
“But, overall I feel like I played pretty well and get out there and go after it tomorrow.”