Michael Putnam leads Humana Challenge at 63

Michael Putnam leads Humana Challenge on a beautiful day for golf

Thursday was a typical opening day at the Humana Challenge.

As usual, everybody gushed about the conditions in the desert.

"Awesome weather, awesome golf courses," defending champion Patrick Reed said.

His playing partner, Matt Kuchar, chimed in: "We got just a perfect day today, and the forecast is for more of the same."

There was a leaderboard that included a few familiar names and some others who rise to the surface on the PGA Tour only occasionally.

One of the latter was the leader, Michael Putnam, whose 63 was nine under par at the PGA West Nicklaus Private Course and led by one. The other two courses in use for this year's event — long a January staple on the tour as the Bob Hope Classic — are the La Quinta Country Club and PGA West's Palmer Private.

Five others trailed Putnam by one shot, four more were two back at seven under, and five more were looming at six under.

Putnam was even par after six holes, then birdied seven holes on the back nine.

"I hit a lot of shots close, a lot of five-, 10-foot putts," he said, "and I made them all."

If there is a ring of familiarity in the Los Angeles area about Putnam, it could stem from his highly successful career at Pepperdine, where he was a three-time All-American and lost the 2005 NCAA title match in a playoff. The winner of that playoff, James Lepp, set a course record in beating Putnam for the title.

"He sells golf shoes now," Putnam said.

Putnam has been on the main tour for four years, has won around $2 million, lives near Seattle and made it clear he was looking for Super Bowl tickets. His younger brother, Andrew, is also on the tour and was an inspiration to Michael because of how well he played in the tour's autumn events.

Thursday, big brother clearly held the upper hand. Andrew shot 77.

Some of the better-known players in the field fared well. Italy's Francesco Molinari, one of those European Ryder Cup players who biannually tortures the U.S., was at eight under. So was Mark Wilson, who won here in 2012 and made seven birdies and an eagle.

Reed, who opened his title run last year with 63-63-63 and kept on going to a spot on the Ryder Cup team, was at seven under. Kuchar was at seven under too.

John Daly, at 48 and still swinging from his heels, was off to a good start at three under.

On the other hand, Luke Donald, former No. 1 in the world, shot three over. Jason Dufner, former PGA champion, shot four over.

Then there was Phil Mickelson, who has won here twice and has won five majors but was pretty much indistinguishable on this day from some of the competing amateurs. He shot 71, with four birdies and three bogeys, but kept the usual stiff upper lip in his first event since the Ryder Cup.

"I can't wait to get started again," he said, "because I felt like I played a little tight today."

Then there was unheralded Blake Adams, who shot 64 and who, at 39, is feeling like a bionic man. He has been on various pro tours for the past 10 years, but has limped around for much of that time with a bad hip. Finally, he had left hip replacement surgery and Thursday marked his first appearance on the Tour since March.

He made the most of it with 10 birdies.

He lives in Swainsboro, Ga., of which he says, exaggerating slightly, "It's 130 people with no red lights." The actual population is around 7,000.

When he was recovering from his surgery, he was able to practice on his own home practice facility. He said it once was an old dirt road with "pine trees on the left, crops on the right." He said it is about 15 yards wide.

"If you don't hit it straight, you lose your ball," he said. "It's pretty awesome."

Which was much like the weather, and lots of scores, in desert golf paradise Thursday.

Follow Bill Dwyre on Twitter @DwyreLATimes

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