RENO - Brain Watts got just what the doctor ordered. In fact, he got much more than that.
After battling hip problems for the past two years, Watts eventually had surgery on his ailing left hip on Jan 5. Now less than nine months later, Watts equaled his best round of the year, an 8-under 64 to take the first round lead at the Reno-Tahoe Open on Thursday at Montreux Golf and Country Club.
"I obviously played a great round of golf," said Watts, who's opening-round score was the lowest first round total in RTO history. "It was kind of tough out there. I drove the ball well and converted some putts. Guys like me have the capability to shoot well, you just never know when it's going to happen."
Former UNLV golf star Edward Fryatt is one shot back of Watts at 7-under, while Mark O'Meara heads a list of four others who are two shots back at 6-under.
"It's been fun because I'm seeing some signs of my game coming around," said O'Meara, who's played 15 tournaments this year, but has only made the cut in nine of them. "I've certainly struggled this year."
The same goes for Watts. But his pain has been more physical.
Watts' hip surgery was identical to what other PGA Tour golfers have had. Steve Elkington, Greg Norman, Jesper Parnevik, and Peter Jacobsen all have had tears on the labrum of their hip. And all of the, including Watts, ended up going to same Florida doctor to get it fixed.
It must have worked. The surgery has, perhaps, officially completed Watts' transition from the Japan Golf Tour to the PGA Tour, which me made in 1999. After failing to make the cut at last year's RTO, Watts cited hip problems for much of his struggles. Not only in this tournament, but other ones, as well.
He's played in 11 events this year, finishing in the top 10 in two of them. He's won over $1.5 million since turning pro in 1986, but the majority of that has been collected in the past three years. In 1998, Watts lost a four-hole playoff at the British Open to O'Meara, who also won the Masters that year.
So being humbled on the Japan Tour, battling hip problems, and losing a heartbreaker to one of the game's great players in O'Meara has all made Watts stronger. And brought him to the top of the RTO leader board.
"You have to gain something from each experience, good or bad," Watts said.
Fryatt, a Chapparal High grad, must be thinking the same thing. Like Watts, the 30-year old Fryatt didn't make the cut at last year's RTO after failing to post a score under par. But this year, he overcame bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13 for an opening-round 65.
"I don't have any good vibes about this golf course, to be honest," said Fryatt, who hasn't played in two weeks. "I came to this tournament with pretty much no expectations. After you take two weeks off, you're just trying to get your feet under you again."
Six players are three shots back at 5-under, including Steve Flesch, who birdied the last three holes on Thursday.
Reno-Tahoe Open Notebook
The wind coming off of the Sierra Nevada did affect most of the players and their scores on Thursday at Montreux Golf and Country Club. Gusts of 25-30 mph were recorded at the South Reno country club, located at the base of Mount Rose.
But if they were all from cowboy country, it wouldn't have been a problem.
"This was a pretty average day compared to what I'm used to," said Brian Watts, the RTO's first-round leader who was born in Dallas and resides in Edmond, Okla. "This would be a pretty mild day."
Watts, though, did admit that having an early morning tee time helped him avoid the windiest conditions of the day.
Really, though, there wasn't much of a difference between morning vs. afternoon tee times. Of the 77 players who teed off in the morning, 39 of finished under par. Of the 77 players who teed off in the afternoon, 33 of them finished under par.
Fred Funk and Rocco Mediate withdrew Thursday. Franklin Langham withdrew on Wednesday and was replaced by Brad Fabel.
ROUGH DAY FOR GALENA HIGH SENIOR
Grizzly senior Bryson Young's first round didn't end that bad, but his start was troubling. He's currently in last place in the 154-man field after shooting an 8-over 80 on Thursday.
Young, 17, double bogeyed three of the first six holes, bogeyed two others, and made only one par. He nearly birdied No. 9, but his putt missed right of the hole. His only birdie came on No. 10, which brought him back to 7-over. He played the back nine at 1-under until a bogey on No. 16 dropped him back to 8-over.
There are three others at 7-over, including Rick Leibovitz, who would've tied with Young but birdied No. 9 to finish at 7-over.
No wonder Tiger Woods hasn't been in contention in any of the past three majors. Mark O'Meara, a good friend who lives in the same Florida neighborhood as Woods, was even dogging him before last week's PGA Championship.
And O'Meara hasn't won a tournament this year and has only made the cut in nine of 15 tournaments he's played in.
"I played practice rounds with him last week at the PGA and I was hitting it better than he was," O'Meara said. "I don't say that very often."
But O'Meara doesn't think Woods is going anywhere, however.
"He'll be fine," O'Meara said. "I don't think you have to worry about Tiger Woods. That's for sure."
PRO-AM ACTUALLY HELPS FORMER UNLV STAR
Most PGA Tour players don't like playing in pro-ams because they're typically held the day before the first round. They normally take too long and it's doesn't give players a chance to effectively scope out the course.
Edward Fryatt was no different. But he's changed his mind.
Fryatt's pro-am partner on Wednesday got on his case for playing poorly on the front nine. Fryatt then went on to shoot 5-under on the back nine and fired a 7-under 65 on Thursday's second round.
"I carried that momentum into Thursday morning round," said Fryatt, a Las Vegas resident. "Sometimes you do get something out of the pro-ams. It turned out to be great thing for me."
"It'd be a lot more fun to ride this golf course," said Tim Herron about Montreux, a notoriously hilly course with numerous elevation changes throughout the 7,552-yard Jack Nicklaus designed course, which sits at 5,500 feet above sea level.