GOLF: Journeyman Wes Roach snags first-round lead at Congaree, DJ one shot back

Since 2014, Wes Roach has been searching for that elusive first PGA Tour win. As the curtain opened at Congaree Golf Club on Thursday, he delivered a dazzling start to his mission. The 32-year-old veteran was brilliant in the opening round of the Palmetto Championship in Ridgeland, carding a 7-under 64 to take a one-shot lead over four others, including world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

“It feels great, hard work paying off a little bit,” Roach said. “It’s just 18 holes and there’s a long way to go, but I’m just going to do my best to stay present out there and continue to hit quality shots.” 

The Tennessee native began his tournament with a blazing start, racing to a 4-under-par tally through four holes highlighted by a spectacular 105-yard holeout on the par-5 4th. After another pair of birdies to finish off an inward 30, Roach tamed a treacherous Congaree back nine to reach 7-under par and notch his first-ever overnight PGA Tour lead. 

After swapping out his putter a few weeks ago, the Duke graduate shined on the greens to fire his lowest round of the season. A pair of clutch birdie putts on the par-4 9th and 16th holes propelled Roach to an early one-shot advantage. 

“It’s nice to see the ball rolling where I’m looking, and going in the hole is a huge bonus,” he said. 

But the world’s top-ranked player is just a shot behind. On a day in which he was honored by Gov. Henry McMaster with South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto, Johnson made a strong statement in his opening round, shooting a bogey-free 65 to sit in a tie for second alongside Chesson Hadley, Erik van Rooyen, and Clemson alumnus Doc Redman. 

“You know, I’m playing well,” Johnson said. “Short game’s been a little off, but today I missed it in the right spots when I did miss it, but I hit a lot of real quality iron shots and gave myself a lot of looks.”

The South Carolina native put on a masterful ball-striking performance on Thursday morning, landing it 11 feet or closer on an incredible seven consecutive approach shots. Johnson displayed his elite accuracy from the fairway, sticking his iron shots on the greens to set up easy birdie bids. Despite being unable to take advantage of the par-5s, DJ finished his day with a 4-under front nine capped off by a marvelous chip-in from off the green, sending the Congaree crowd into a roar and giving Johnson a 6-under opening round. 

“I hit a really good drive, it went just through the fairway and so I had to play over to the left because I didn’t know how it was going to come out,” Johnson said. “Obviously, I made a really nice chip there. I would have taken just an up-and-down and that would have been just fine with me. It definitely ended the day on a good note.” 

Looking to follow up a terrific 2020 season, Redman matched the world’s top golfer to start his week in Ridgeland. The 23-year-old Clemson product and former U.S. Amateur champion found his groove on the back nine, racking up four birdies in a five-hole span to earn a share of second place after the opening round. 

“It’s just been a lot of hard work the past few weeks,” Redman said. “I know I’ve been playing well and it’s a pretty cool golf course. I was just able to hit some good shots and make some putts and just kind of next thing I know it was going well.” 

The Lowcountry’s hometown star came up with a stellar opening-round performance, as Bluffton’s own Bryson Nimmer shot a fantastic 3-under 68 to earn a share of 19th. After an opening bogey on the tricky par-3 10th, Nimmer got it back with a massive 20-foot putt on 15 before tearing up the front nine with four birdies to finish his opening round inside the top 20. 

After earning his spot via a Sunday qualifier on Belfair Golf Club’s West Course, Maryland native Tain Lee took advantage of his opportunity, shooting an impressive 4-under first round highlighted by a trio of birdies on the back nine. 

It was a disappointing day for a duo of top-tier Englishmen at Congaree, as Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton both settled for even-par 71. Brooks Koepka couldn’t find the start he was hoping for with a 1-over round, and Congaree ambassador Lucas Glover struggled to a 5-over 76.  

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By Wes Kerr / Photos by Justin Jarrett

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