HAYWARD, California (August 9, 2018) -- Steph Curry proved last year that he’s not intimidated by professional golf events.
His encore performance? Somehow it could be even better, by a significant margin.
The two-time MVP guard of the Golden State Warriors birdied three of his final seven holes Thursday at the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic to rally for a 1-over 71 in the opening round at TPC Stonebrae.
That would be a score three shots better than his first round in this event last year. And that 74, in the amateur’s Web.com Tour debut, was considered a pretty significant success.
Once again, don’t doubt Curry.
When he reached the clubhouse, Curry was in a tie for 115th – although he will likely drop a little with the afternoon wave just off (the event is in California) and this course being gettable.
By day’s end, the projected cut will likely be 1 or 2 under … which means Curry actually will begin Friday with at least a tiny chance to make the weekend.
As we did last year, let’s contextualize this.
Does an outside chance to make the cut after 18 holes sound impressive for a seasoned professional golfer? No.
But Curry is competing in just his second career Web.com Tour event, and these are really his only forays into high-level competitive golf. He also doesn’t train for this sport at this level because, you know, he kind of has another professional sport that takes up his training time.
He was around a 2 handicap heading into this event last year and currently has a 0.0. That’s impressive improvement but a vast cry from the indexes pros at this level sport.
And history shows that athletes from other sports foraying into the Web.com Tour or PGA Tour for a week tend to feel the pressure and shoot rounds in the high 70s, 80s or worse. Often it’s a last-place finish or thereabouts.
(Here’s an example: John Smoltz, a plus-2 handicap at the time, went 84-87 in a 2011 Web.com Tour event to finish in last by nine shots.)
So this is just incredible stuff from Curry, really.
He’s already ahead of 14 players in the clubhouse, among those Brian Davis (3-over 73) – who has finished runner-up five times in 358 PGA Tour starts and made over $13 million on the big circuit.
His playing competitors, Cameron Champ and Martin Trainer, didn’t beat him by much with Champ going 2-under 68 and Trainer firing a 1-under 69. (Adam Long and Seth Reeves currently co-lead at 7 under.)
Trainer has won twice on the Web.com Tour this season, and Champ has a 2018 victory also – along with the fact that the 23-year-old is considered one of the game’s top young talents.
There’s all that, and then we consider how Curry reached his score.
Curry did just fine in his first 11 holes, with four bogeys and seven pars as he appeared headed to something around his impressive opening 74 from Thursday last year.
But then he caught fire. Curry made his first birdie of the day at the par-5 third (his 12th) to get back to 3 over.
He then birdied the seventh to move back to 2 over and nearly holed out for eagle as his approach at the eighth hit the pin!
That would lead to birdie and boosting him to 1 over.
It actually could’ve been an even better finish, as Curry hit a rope of a second shot into the closing par-5 ninth that saw the ball land some 15-20 feet below the pin and bound to the back fringe.
That left him a roughly 40-foot putt for eagle. He came up 6-7 feet short on the attempt, though, and pushed the remainder to fail in his bid for three straight birdies to close and a first-round 70.
It was a rare disappointment on this day.
Maybe he’s not near the top of the leaderboard, and it’s still way more likely than not that this will be another two-day experiment rather than four.
But don’t let that fool you: Curry is doing some sensational work in his rare starts in professional golf.