Ranked No. 711
Alexandre Rocha nearly stopped playing golf last year, until two moves by the International Olympic Committee changed his mind.
And that’s just one tiny part of his unbelievable story.
The world’s 711th-ranked player - who needed to survive a prequalifier, then a Monday qualifier, then a playoff, just to play at PGA National this week - shot a 4 under 66 yesterday, one shot back of Nathan Green and Michael Connell after the first round at the
“I needed a day like today like, you have no idea,’’ Rocha said. “And it was for nobody. It’s for myself.’’
The Honda is only his fourth PGA Tour event; the last was in 2003, and he’s never made a cut. He lost his European Tour card last year and got status earlier this year on the Asian Tour, only after deciding that he wanted to continue playing golf for a living.
The IOC had much to do with that. First, they awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics to his native Brazil, then added golf to that program. Rocha - who didn’t know a word of English when he arrived at Mississippi State - took those moves as signs of what he was supposed to do, so he recommitted to the game with hopes of finally making something happen.
After three straight birdies to open his round, something was happening. Plenty of luck was on his side, too. He pulled his drive into houses on the seventh hole, got a fortunate bounce, and made par. He also knocked in 30-foot par-saving putts that he was just trying to get close.
Green’s card was mistake-free, five birdies, no bogeys, and a mere 25 putts.
Connell - like Rocha, a former Mississippi State Bulldog - was a PGA Tour rookie in 2006, making the cut in four of 22 events. He didn’t get back on Tour until this year, eagled the par-5 third hole, and caught Green with a birdie at the 17th.
Oliver Wilson and Camilo Villegas also were tied for second with Rocha at 4 under.
European - Rhys Davies and Ignacio Garrido shot 7-under 65 to lead the Malaysian Open by one stroke after the first round in Kuala Lumpur.
Nationwide - Tag Ridings and Dave Schultz shot 6-under 65 to share the lead at the Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open, the first time the tour has held a tournament in Colombia.
Ladies Masters - Amanda Blumenherst shot a 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead over defending champion Katherine Hull after the first round of the ANZ Australian Ladies Masters in Gold Coast.