AVONDALE – As Alice Cooper has screamed for the last four decades, “I’m Eighteen and I like it.”
Oh, to be 18 again!
While we can only dream and try to recollect graduating from high school and getting ready for college, Ryan Ruffels can embrace the essence of the Cooper classic.
Ruffels, who turns 19 Saturday, is certainly beaming after teaming with Kyle Stanley for an opening round 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead after one round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at the TPC Louisiana.
The weather was perfect, the playing conditions were good and many of the best players were excellent on the opening day of the tournament.
It took a little while to adjust to the alternate ball format, which will return on Saturday. Once I was able to do so, it was enjoyable to watch the strategy and the teamwork of each of the 80 duos participating.
One aspect was clear was that play progressed at a faster pace with the format, always a plus.
Certainly, the scores will go low with the best ball format set for Friday, providing the wind is not too prohibitive.
What is encouraging is that the “name” teams are in contention.
That includes perhaps the biggest name in the field in Jordan Spieth, along with his partner Ryan Palmer.
Spieth and Palmer did the Texas two-step, doing some outstanding scrambling, salvaging several pars and playing a bogey-free round of 66 to share first place. Spieth sank a beautiful birdie putt on 18 to tie Ruffels and Stanley for the lead.
Spieth’s short game was a sight to behold.
“Just some extra work,” Spieth said. “I put in some more chipping work over the past couple of days and I felt like I had a good feel how the ball would come off the bermuda grass. We read the greens pretty well. Ryan hit most of the putts and he did a great job today. Ryan really got us going early.”
Palmer felt the duo worked well together.
“It was good,” Palmer said. “He was really wanting to know where I want the ball on my third shot. It’s great watching his short game. It’s one of the best in the world, if not the best. We’ll still play our game with the best ball format. We have a lot of momentum going into tomorrow.”
Jason Day and Rickie Fowler, along with Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson are within six shots of the lead.
Day and Fowler had it to 3-under before dropping a couple of strokes and finishing at 71. Rose and Stenson had to be a bit disappointed with an even-par 72.
In addition, former University High star Patrick Reed and partner Patrick Cantlay are at 4-under-par 68. K.J. Choi and Charlie Wi are at 5-under, along with Ben Crane and Ben Martin, as well as Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith and the team of Charley Hoffman and Nick Watney. Defending champion Brian Stuard and partner Chris Stroud are also at 4-under.
That is not only important for local fan interest and a national television audience over the weekend, it is important for Steve Worthy and his team in their attempt to continue to lure the world’s best players here and for those who participated to share the message with others who did not come this year to perhaps come next year.
Nearly to a man, those who spoke to the media expressed how much he liked the team format, which can be a major factor in overcoming the playing dates or those who do not feel the course is suited to their games.
Frankly, the new format could play a significant role in Zurich deciding to continue its corporate sponsorship beyond its current deal, which expires in 2019.
Wind will likely continue to be a factor Friday and Saturday while the forecast for Sunday is grim, calling for rain and thunderstorms.
At first blush, the new team format, the first such event on tour since 1981, is a smash hit, along the lines of “I’m Eighteen.” As with Cooper, here’s hoping the hits keep on coming in Avondale over the weekend.
“We’re just going to try to have as much fun as we had today,” Spieth said.