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Willis Takes Opening-Round Lead in Transitions Championship


Garrett Willis carded a 6-under par 65 to take the opening-round lead of the Transitions Championship. The $5.4 million PGA Tour event, with $972,000 to the winner, teed off Thursday at Innisbrook Resort in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Willis holds a two-stroke lead over defending champion Retief Goosen of South Africa, who's tied for second with Jeff Maggert, Jonathan Byrd, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk and Carl Pettersson.

Though you wouldn't know it by the low scores, wind played a factor on Innisbrook's Copperhead course. After a bogey on the par-4 third hole, Willis reeled off seven birdies the rest of the way.

"The course is playing very good," the 36-year-old from North Carolina said. "I was fortunate enough to get off early before the wind really started kicking up. I wouldn't want to be making the turn right now because the wind is very difficult out there. That's one thing this golf course has is when the wind is blowing; it makes it very difficult out there."

Goosen was also pleased with his play in the opening round, which had temperatures in the mid-60s. "It wasn't easy out there," the two-time U.S. Open winner said. "Windy, cross-wind on the whole course, that's not easy to judge your shots. First hole, I hit a driver, 3-wood next to the green, chipped and putt. The other par 5, birdie, as well.

"But from there on it was a bit of a struggle. I got it up-and-down on a few holes to save par, and then, yeah, you didn't really expect to play these last three holes 2-under. They are playing pretty tough."

The normally stoic Goosen added drolly, "Yeah, obviously a great start. It's a great day today. My grandmother just turned 100 today, as well. So hopefully (I'll) be around for a few more years."

After his round, Willis, a graduate of the 2009 Nationwide Tour whose only PGA Tour win came in the 2001 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open, met with reporters. Here's what the Tarheel, who now resides in South Florida, had to say.

MODERATOR: We welcome Garrett Willis following a 6-under par 65 today. Garrett is playing this week on a sponsor exemption. Just talk a little bit about the day. You live in Dade City, which is what, 45 minutes away from here?

GARRETT WILLIS: Without traffic.

MODERATOR: Without traffic. Just talk about sort of playing in your hometown.

GARRETT WILLIS: Yeah, I haven't had the opportunity to play here since, I don't know, maybe '03 is the last time I played here. It's always been one of my favorite tournaments and always looked for the opportunity to be able to play here. And when I got my card back, I thought I was a shoe-in to get into the tournament. But Brett Craig and Gerald Goodman, it was nice enough of them to give me an exemption into the field, so actually I found out on the way down to the Honda that I was getting an exemption, which freed me up pretty good at the Honda, even though any weekends scores didn't show that. But I feel pretty good about being able to be at home and playing in front of family and friends. And more or less as soon as I leave here, I'm going to lay on my own couch.

Q. So you didn't carry a whole lot of momentum into this; was it a situation where you couldn't wait to get back playing to erase that memory?

GARRETT WILLIS: Well, as you know, us Tour players, we do travel a lot. So after my round I couldn't wait to get back home. I knew I was taking Puerto Rico off and I was looking forward to just a week off of resting and relaxing prior to this tournament, because I knew it was going to be a lot of pulls on my time and I was going to have a lot of commitments and the whole tickets sorting out. It's a little bit of a long commute, but I was really prepared mentally coming into this week knowing that I had a week off to prepare and be able to rest.

Q. How is the course playing?

GARRETT WILLIS: The course is playing very good. I was fortunate enough to get off early before the wind really started kicking up. I wouldn't want to be making the turn right now because the wind is very difficult out there. That's one thing this golf course has is when the wind is blowing; it makes it very difficult out there. So I was happy to get done when I was.

Q. Can you talk about your final nine? You seemed to get really hot on those final nine holes.

GARRETT WILLIS: Yeah, I played pretty solid on front. I had a pretty easy up-and-down on the first hole and didn't get it up-and-down on the first hole and bogeyed 3 with an errant shot. I hit a bad tee shot on No. 10 in the trees and punched it out over the green and chipped it in for birdie over the back of the green 10. Anything coming from back to front on 10 is no bargain. And that just kind of relaxed me after that. I was able to just kind of focus on hitting good shots. And the next thing you know, it was just like birdie after birdie. And I gave myself a chance for birdie on the next, the next six holes and made two solid up-and-downs on 17 and 18. Really I was constantly putting at birdie, so made it pretty easy.

Q. Have you worn the USF Bulls hat or just for this events?

GARRETT WILLIS: No, I've been an USF Bulls fan. I like to go to the basketball games. I like to go to the football games. And being here local, I figured I would support the Bulls. I don't have any hat contract, so I figured, might as well support the local team.

Q. What do the folks at Tennessee State say about that?

GARRETT WILLIS: I won my first tournament with the Tennessee carry bag, so I kind of support just wherever I live, being from Knoxville, but my coach is just happy when I play well I guess.

Q. Speaking of the hat, how would you describe the sponsorship climate right now in this economy, especially -

GARRETT WILLIS: I would say between cold and frigid. As we all know, this isn't the best time for the economy, and you know, people are out there losing jobs. So you've got to do whatever you can to keep jobs first and kind of cut back on advertisements. It's very understandable.

Q. What was the last hat you had or last deal you had?

GARRETT WILLIS: I've worn a Titleist hat for pretty much my entire career.

Q. How did you go about preparing for this with the week off? Did you come out and get an extra round or two at Innisbrook?

GARRETT WILLIS: Actually I planned on coming out here last week a couple of times, but as you know the weather was so horrific this past week; I had only played one round of golf the last week prior to Sunday. So I played last Wednesday, which was eight days ago, and after I shot a nice 80-79 at Honda, I hook off Monday, Tuesday. Played a round of golf as the Members at my home course at Lake Jovita on Wednesday, and took Thursday, Friday and Saturday off. But John Houston and I came out here on Sunday and we played 27 holes in like 3 1/2 hours, and that was -- that was the preparation that I used. And then I played the Monday Pro-Am, as well.

Q. How long did that take you?

GARRETT WILLIS: The Monday Pro-Am? A little bit longer.

Q. Did you see this coming?

GARRETT WILLIS: You know what, I've been playing really well all year. I've made four out of five cuts, and I really haven't capitalized on my play this year. I put myself in position a couple of times and slipped back, and I kind of did the same thing today. I put myself in position and missed the green on 17 and 18, but was able to get it up-and-down. Like I said, I've had a really good year on the Nationwide Tour last year, played well in the PGA events that I got into last year, and I've been playing well. Just ready for four rounds together.

Q. A little off-point, sorry; something I'm working on. How is the grooves rule played out as far as you've seen this year? Has it affected you at all? Are you able to get the ball as close to the hole, flyer lies, or much ado about nothing?

GARRETT WILLIS: I have gotten flyer lies. Probably more so when I'm playing at home than I notice on the Tour. The Tour's rough is a little bit thicker typically and a little bit more dense than you would see at your home golf course. So it really doesn't jump out that much out of there. But I really haven't noticed much of a difference. But it's definitely in the back of your mind now where before in the past it has not been. I think it's more of a mental thing.

Q. Part of the change, the intent was to try to make you guys think twice about just reaching for driver and blowing it down there as far as you could. Have you adjusted your dump-and-chase philosophy off the tee or whatever? Are you pretty much by default reaching for driver?

GARRETT WILLIS: I'm Fred Funk/Brian Gay long, so I don't worry about hitting anything else other than driver on every hole.

MODERATOR: Take us through your birdies and bogeys. You bogeyed 3.

GARRETT WILLIS: Bogeyed 3. Hit a really good tee shot. It's an intimidating hole, and the toughest part is the tee shot. I hit a great tee shot and got a little cute with my second shot, tried to hit a little cut in there from 185 yards and double-crossed it, hit it long left there. And then was able to hit the shot I was trying to hit -- kind of ironic, because I hit the exact shot on the next hole, the little pull/cut 5-iron and made about, I don't know, a 20-footer maybe on that hole. My other birdie, 8, the guys in my group hit iron. I hit 5-wood. I couldn't believe it. I told my caddie that I was just going to hit it to the back of the green and just try to give myself a 30-footer and probably made it from 35 feet. Hit it past the pin 35 feet, would have gone in a coke bottle. It was beautiful. Chipped in on 10. Hit a really solid tee shot on 11. Laid it up just at the edge of the fairway, just short of the bunker with a 5-wood, chipped it up from about 30 yards to four or five feet straight in.

12, I hit 3-wood off the tee, a little bit of an aggressive tee shot, ended up just going through the fairway, another three or four yards would have been in the water but it was into the wind and the wind was picking up then and it was getting cold. I didn't know if I should take my sweater off, put it back on, put a jacket on; it was crazy the way the temperature changed and hit a 7-iron in there probably about 15 feet and made it. 14, the par 5 is a pretty good hole for a par 5. Typically these guys are just bombing away but you have to actually think on that hole because you don't want to have a sidehill lay up and I laid it down there perfect. The wind was kicking up pretty good. I had 120 yard to the hole and tried to play a 130-yard pitching wedge and hit it in there about 15 feet downhill right-to-left. Just tried to trickle it down there and ended up going in.

16, Kodak hole. My caddie seems to remind me every week which is the Kodak hole, because I guess he's wanting a percentage or something if I win this sucker. Tough tee shot, but hit a great second shot in there, probably going to be the toughest pin of the week, it's tucked just barely over the right bunker and the greens are firming up with that wind and hit it just short of the green and kicked on to the green and made another 15-footer right in the joint.

MODERATOR: Garrett, thank you.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.