South Hadley’s Werenski 5 shots back at Travelers

  • South Hadley’s Richie Werenski tees off on No. 16 at the Travelers Championship, Thursday at TPC River Highlands, in Cromwell, Connecticut. He bogeyed the hole but finished the round with a 2-under, 68. for the recorder/kyle grabowski

  • PGA Tour professional Richie Werenski, a South Hadley native, center, is shown at the seventh tee at the Travelers Championship, Thursday at TPC River Highlands, in Cromwell, Connecticut. FOR THE RECORDER/KYLE GRABOWSKI

For the Recorder
Published: 6/21/2018 11:38:33 PM

CROMWELL, Conn. — The fact that Richy Werenski can be frustrated after an under-par round shows how far he’s come.

The South Hadley native shot a 2-under 68, Thursday, and is five shots back of the lead at the Travelers Championship. Zach Johnson and Jordan Spieth each shot 7-under 63s to share the lead after the first round at TPC River Highlands.

“It was pretty frustrating. I putted terribly,” Werenski said. “I didn’t hit many bad shots, just a couple missed putts. Stinks.”

At the 2017 Travelers, Werenski was 1-over after the first round and missed the cut. He’s spent the past year adjusting to playing on the PGA Tour and refining his game.

“He’s more comfortable out here, feels like he belongs,” said Kevin Velardo, Werenski’s manager. “He’s in a much better position this year, this week, than he was last week.”

Werenski parred his first six holes after starting on the 10th tee at 7:20 a.m. He could have been 3 under after that stretch. His birdie attempt on No. 11 fell 3-feet short, and he lipped out on No. 12.

“I usually make those,” he said.

The par-3 16th set him back. He landed in a green-side bunker following his tee shot over water. His chip landed 15 feet from the green and he two-putted for bogey.

Werenski responded on the 17th. He crushed a superb second shot 148 yards to within 3 feet of the hole. A simple birdie putt brought him to even and a par on 18 sent him to the turn with a 36. He went to work on the front nine.

“Definitely a bit of a turning point in the round. I had a bunch of chances the first seven holes, really all day,” Werenski said. “To finally get that first one was nice and got my round going a little bit.”

Werenski birdied the first three holes, capped by a challenging 12-foot downhill putt breaking left on No. 3. That put him at 3 under and tied for 10th at the time.

“Hit some good wedges on those holes and was able to capitalize,” Werenski said. “That’s really the goal is to give myself as many birdie chances as possible and keep the foot on the gas whenever I make a run of birdies.”

His tee shot on No. 4 went left, but he found the fairway on his approach and the green on his third, lining up a 5-foot putt for par. It lipped out to push him back to 2 under.

He parred the par-3 fifth comfortably, but on the par-5 sixth hit his second shot way right out of bounds. The ball pinged off something metallic around the seventh tee box, but Werenski saved par when he chipped to within 2 feet.

“Couple bad ones, but I recovered with a good shot,” he said.

A birdie on seven brought him back to 3 under. Werenski left his tee shot short on the par-3 eighth and found a bunker. He cleared that to leave himself a 4-foot par putt but missed for bogey.

Werenski dealt with one more bunker on No. 9, but he reached the green on his second shot, leaving a 24-foot putt for birdie. He missed the putt by 2 feet but tapped in for par to close the round.

“Overall it was pretty solid, I can’t be too mad,” Werenski said.

Werenski found himself in trouble reasonably often, but got out of it more often. Playing in his first career major at last weekend’s U.S. Open prepared him perfectly.

“Last week was really tough, crazy around the greens, you had to use a lot of imagination,” Werenski said. “That definitely helped out here. There were a lot of shots that seemed pretty easy.”

When Werenski’s group walked off No. 9 after their round, Matt Jones was tied for the lead at 5 under. He eagled No. 13 and followed that with a birdie on 14, while hitting birdies on Nos. 6 and 11. Jones didn’t have a bogey in the round.

“When you’re seeing putts go in and you’re seeing good shots being hit you feed off that,” Werenski said.

The group will tee off at 12:20 p.m. Friday from the first hole. Werenski is in a good position to make the cut, which he has done at half the tournaments he’s entered this year. He played the weekend in the two tournaments he played before the U.S. Open, tying for fourth at the FedEx St. Jude Classic two weeks ago.

“I know I should be out here a long time,” Werenski said. “I’m definitely good enough, and I keep getting better.”

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