NASSAU, Bahamas — Sep Straka was preparing for a big week in Alabama with golf matches at the club, a friend’s wedding and the SEC Championship Game. And then Tiger Woods couldn’t play in the Bahamas due to a foot injury and Straka had a change of plans.
It turned out well for him.
Woods’ replacement managed six birdies for a 3-under 69 in a rain-soaked Albany, giving him a share of the lead with defending champion Victor Hovland, Tom Kim and Colin Morikawa at the World Championship.
It was Straka’s first time in a pro-am that was usually held by Woods. He is paired with Justin Thomas, who normally plays the first round with Woods.
Did you get anything else from the tournament organizer?
“The iron game wasn’t as good as his, but it probably rubbed off on me a little bit,” Straka said. “So yeah, that was good.”
Hovland is the only player to reach 4 in any score before a bogey on the 16th. He is trying to join Woods as the only players to win this holiday event back-to-back.
Hovland stays with Morikawa again. A year ago, Morikawa needed a win to regain his five-shot lead at world No. 1 when he shot a final-round 76 and Hovland shot a 66 to win.
And then there’s Kim, a 20-year-old star from South Korea who has won twice on the PGA Tour and landed on the big stage at the Presidents Cup. His week began with Woods meeting for the first time — “It was great. I have to pinch myself a little bit,” he said — and then somehow escaping a bogey at Albany.
The course usually produces low scores, except for rain that left foot-deep puddles in some sandy areas and made cutting from tight lies on dry grass difficult.
Kim was fantastic in the short game. He was on the front fairway of the par-3 17th and saw his shot 3 feet short of the hole as he sliced through the clay at high speed.
Cameron Young, who came within an inch of the hole, smiled at his father and said, “He’s allergic to bogeys.”
Young, the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and one of seven newcomers in the 20-man field, had a 71 and was one of eight players to finish at even par.
Straka is the only player to have never played in the Albany Ryder Cup or President’s Cup. He is number 29 in the world, the first winner in the Honda Classic, at the beginning of the year, and he did not want to be in the Bahamas.
He is a member at Shoal Creek, and this week the club’s matches were against Greystone. JT Poston, a two-time winner on tour, will be married on Friday. The big day was Saturday when Georgia played LSU in Atlanta.
Woods was about to leave for practice Monday afternoon when he got the call that he had plantar fasciitis in his right foot and wouldn’t play.
For Straka, who was born and raised in Austria and moved to Valdosta, Georgia at the age of 14, it was an easy decision to play in Georgia and fluently dip between German and the South.
“It was a great opportunity to be here,” he said.
Masters champion Scotty Scheffler, who finished second in the world tournament last year, has a 72. He must win to return to world No. 1.
As for Woods, he continued his presence at the tournament by spending time in the television booth. He has not played since the opening championship in July.