A birdie-birdie-birdie start on a very tough course set the tone early for Ben Cook Thursday in the opening-round of the Bupa Championship presented by Volvo. The 27-year-old from Caledonia, Michigan, went on to card a bogey-free, 6-under 66 and finished the day leading by three over fellow Americans Mookie DeMoss and Conner Godsey.
“I’m super thankful to get off to a great start, but playing well on day one doesn’t mean you win it. I have three more hard days ahead of me, and I’m just going to try to make as many birdies and pars as I can the next couple of days,” said Cook of an impressive start that set a new course record at the Robert Trent Jones II-designed PGA Riviera Maya.
Cook was one of only 16 players who shot under par and the only one to go bogey-free on a long, tight course surrounded by jungle and cenotes. Factor in the wind with the hot and humid conditions and players had an even tougher test.
“It’s a grind. Here you have to hit it straight off the tee. It’s just paramount to keep it in play to have a lot of chances for pars and birdies,” elaborated Cook, who only missed two greens all day. “You have to be super patient, managing your way around and hitting it to the right spots, the big parts of the fairway, where it might not be (done with) a driver. It was just a lot of hybrids and 3-woods for me today, and that was just my game plan; keep it in the fairway.”
In addition to his three birdies out of the gate, Cook had three more birdies on the back nine, on Nos. 11, 12 and 17. He called two of his six birdies “unexpected” as he managed to roll in a couple of 30-footers on 2 and 11, respectively.
A teaching PGA pro, as well, Cook knows about playing tough courses. He has played in the PGA Championship the past three years, including a career-best tie for 44th that earned him low-club-professional-honors last May at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
Cook said those experiences have strengthened his confidence. “In perspective, it’s really nice to know that the game is there, that you can make the cut at a major championship. I’ve been playing really good lately, and for me it’s just a matter of trusting what I’m hitting and just trusting that I can do it,” added Cook, who needs to finish solo third or better to break inside the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Points List top 10 by the end of the week.
Did you know Ben Cook has played in three PGA Championships? Qualifying through the PGA Professional Championship, which awards exemptions to the leading 20 players each year, he made it into the field the past three years. Cook followed missed cuts at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in 2019 and at TPC Harding Park in 2020, with a tie for 44th at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, this past May.
How tough did PGA Riviera Maya play Thursday? There was only one bogey-free round, by Ben Cook, and there were only 16 players who shot under par. The scoring average for the 130 players who completed their rounds came at 76.43 strokes, which means Cook played 10.43 strokes better than the field.
This is how the players inside the Points List top 10 sit after the first round of the season-ending event:
|1.||Brandon Matthews (U.S.)||T25, 73 (1-over)|
|2.||Conner Godsey (U.S.)||T2, 69 (3-under)|
|3.||Sam Stevens (U.S.)||T51, 75 (3-over)|
|4.||Álvaro Ortiz (Mexico)||T39, 74 (2-over)|
|5.||MJ Maguire (U.S.)||T25, 73 (1-over)|
|6.||Alexandre Rocha (Brazil)||T9, 71 (1-under)|
|7.||Drew Nesbitt (Canada)||T9, 71 (1-under)|
|8.||Jacob Bergeron (U.S.)||T25, 73 (1-over)|
|9.||Leandro Marelli (Argentina)||T61, 76 (4-over)|
|10.||Andrés Gallegos (Argentina)||T17, 72 (par)|
“Keys for out here? If you can keep it within the trees, which is super narrow on some of the holes, and then if you can make a couple of putts, today I’m very thankful that a lot of putts went in for me.”—Ben Cook
“I birdied the first three holes of the day. The one on hole 2, a par-3 which is 250 yards, I was not expecting it whatsoever. I was just kind of playing to the front of the green, and I just happened to roll out a lot longer than I thought, and I made a nice putt,”—Ben Cook
“I missed probably a 10-footer on 10 and then I birdied 11 and 12. The birdie on 12 I wasn’t expecting it either because I hit it to maybe 30 feet and hit that one in.”—Ben Cook
“I think anything around par on this course is a really good score. I just tried to stay patient and give myself opportunities. My wife (Betsy) is caddying this week. I feel that she did a great job helping me stay patient and stay hydrated, and that’s another big thing here, keeping your energy levels on the course.”—Mookie DeMoss
“I need to get (my wife) a gift after this week for carrying the bag in this heat.”—Mookie DeMoss
“On the front nine, eight and nine, I made about a 30-footer on both of those. You are obviously not expecting to make those, so definitely I felt like I stole a couple of birdies.”—Mookie DeMoss
“It’s crazy. I mean, there are no hazards out there, so if you hit it basically off the fairway, in the majority of the holes it’s a lost ball, and you are going to be chipping out sideways if you are lucky because it’s very thick jungle.”—Brandon Matthews
“It’s funny, I left my driver in the room so I wouldn’t be tempted to hit it this week. if you hit anywhere but the fairway, you know you have maybe five yards of rough on each side.”—Brandon Matthews
“I didn’t lose a single ball today, which I’m extremely proud of. No water, no nothing. I mean, I had to chip out sideways on eight, but other than that I played really solid (and) hit a lot of fairways. I stayed really patient, made a nice birdie on nine and shot 73. I don’t really know where I stand, but I can’t imagine I’m too far outside the top 15 or 20.”—Brandon Matthews, who finished tied for 25th
“You just can’t get frustrated. If you go this entire week without hitting a single ball into the jungle even if it’s by a couple of feet, I mean it’s just insane playing. This holes are really tight and there is absolutely no place to miss it; so concentration, patience and you just have to grind it out.”—Brandon Matthews
Sunny, hot and humid, with a high of 91. Wind variable, with gusts to 10 mph.