SOUTH, Bermuda — Arjun Atwal went to Bermuda in the three months after his father’s death without competing and without guaranteeing a tee time. On Thursday, he shot an 8-under 63 at Port Royal that put him one shot back at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship.
Atwal hadn’t played any golf since returning from India until last Friday and the 49-year-old wasn’t sure how his body would hold up over 18 holes. He felt better, and played more.
Atwal was one shot behind Austin Smotherman, who had nine birdies and a clean sheet in calm morning conditions, and Australia’s Harrison Endicott, who played the final five holes at 5 over. Each had 62.
Scoring conditions were so good that 75% of the 132-man field broke 70.
No one was more surprised than Atwal, whose only PGA Tour victory came in 2010 at the Wyndham Championship with a sponsor exemption.
The field is so weak for this tournament — just one player in the top 50 in the world — that Atwal was good enough to fly to the middle of the Atlantic on the alternate list.
Nicolas Lindahim withdrew from the game with a back injury. Atwal was having breakfast, had time to hit a few drivers, headed to the first tee and immediately opened up with three straight birdies.
“I haven’t played much golf. I lost my father three months ago in India, so I went there,” Atwal said. “I haven’t played golf and I forgot to walk. I played 18 holes at Isleworth last Friday in a golf cart, and it’s not the same place as this one. So I was really happy to get through the 18 holes.” I’m not that tired.”
In the year Friday’s play in Florida was the only golfer since he was disqualified after a 73 tournament since the 3M Open in Minnesota on July 21.
Losing his father was tough — the first death in his immediate family — though he says it gave him a better perspective.
“The game is just a game. I take it for what it is,” Atwal said. “I have no guarantees for anyone. I’ve won here. I’ve won on the European Tour, the Asian Tour, and I’m looking forward to the 50 Tour after March next year.”
Smotherman is just getting started. He finished 137th at the FedEx Cup as a rookie last year, but when he entered the top 125 with a full card, all the players ended up defecting to LIV Golf.
He was bracing for a big windfall, as was the case for Trinity Forest’s guest in Dallas last week. He was calm in the morning as he had a bogey-free round for his best score on the PGA Tour.
Endicott joined him at 62, though it was not a good start. He opened with two bogeys. By the end of the round, the Australian had seven birdies and two eagles. And as the weather was good, this day was to be taken advantage of.
“I don’t think we’re going to get too many laps with this wind,” Indycott said.
The four players who joined the 63-year-old Atwal, including Adam Schenk, said his wife missed his flight on Monday after leaving the clubs at home.
Sean O’Hair and Thomas Daughtry were among those on 64. The team on 65 featured Ireland’s Seamus Power, the highest-ranked player at Port Royal at number 48.
Missing from the field was Grayson Murray. The Royal Gazette reports that he was injured in a scooter accident on Bermuda’s roads.
John Daly went to 71. Due to arthritis in his right knee, Daly is allowed to use a wheelchair on the PGA Tour through the Americans with Disabilities Act.