Rookies Rule the Day at Sony Open

HONOLULU – The rookie debut of Scott Langley in the Sony Open made him feel like he was back in college again.

Langley spent the final two hours of the opening round exchanging birdies and battling for the lead with Russell Henley. They were low amateurs in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and immediately afterward they sat together on a plane for a long flight to Northern Ireland to play in the Palmer Cup. They’ve been close friends ever since.

Joining them on Thursday at Waialae was Luke Guthrie, a highly touted rookie who was Langley’s roommate at Illinois.

This was the first full-field event of the PGA Tour season, and the rookies stole the show.

“It was fun to be able to break the ice on all our careers playing with friends,” Langley said.

Langley did more than break the ice. Despite a few jangled nerves at the start, he made it around without a bogey, holed 192 feet worth of putts and opened with an 8-under 62. He hit a delicate flop shot over the corner of a bunker on the par-5 18th hole to 6 feet for one last birdie, giving him a one-shot lead over Henley, who settled for par.

Langley, a lefty who grew up outside St. Louis learning to swing on mats at a family golf center, relied heavily on what he calls his “S-3” – stinger 3-wood – a beautiful, piercing ball flight that he kept under the wind and in play. His putter certainly helped, most notably the 55-foot eagle putt he holed on the par-5 ninth, and the 30-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole that gave him the outright lead.

Henley, who made five birdies on the back nine, knocked in a pair of 15-foot putts on the 14th and 15th holes to tie for the lead, and he made another birdie on the 17th to answer Langley’s big putt on the previous hole. All that separated them was Henley’s chip on the 18th that came out hot and settled 30 feet away for a two-putt par.

“I think there was a lot of nerves for me the first few holes and I think playing with Scotty and Luke was huge for me, and watching them play well kind of gave me a goal to try to keep up with them, so it was definitely fun feeding off them,” Henley said.

Scott Piercy, one of 20 players on Maui, had a much easier time on these greens and had a 64. Tim Clark matched him in the afternoon, excited about his start and that he finally feels healthy after a mysterious elbow injury cost him just about all of 2011 – right after his runner-up finish at the Sony Open.

But this day belonged to the rookies, and not just Langley and Henley.

“It just seems like the last few years, there’s been so many more younger guys and new guys out here on tour,” Clark said. “It’s going to be exciting to watch some of these guys play.”