Scott, Molinari hot, but Romo is the Safeway surprise

© Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — So there’s a Masters champ tied for first place after a round of the Safeway Open, and a British Open winner a shot behind? Those guys, in order, Adam Scott and Francesco Molinari, are pros.

What they do is what we expect. As opposed to Tony Romo.

Yes, that Tony Romo, former quarterback, current NFL announcer for CBS, amateur golfer, Safeway surprise.

Scott won the Masters in 2013, Molinari the British in 2018. It doesn’t hurt the Safeway, the opening event of the 2019-2020 PGA Tour schedule, fighting for media exposure this time of the year, to have a couple of major winners, and internationals at that, at the top of the leaderboard.

Nor to have Romo playing so well that Sunday he may have to decide — emphasis on the word may — whether to be on the first tee at Silverado or in a booth at Soldier Field in Chicago with Jim Nantz commenting on the Bears-Vikings game.

Scott, the Aussie, shot a 7-under-par 65 on the North Course at Silverado on Thursday, sharing the first-round lead with Andrew Landry, the American from Port Neches, Texas. Molinari, the Italian, had a 6-under 66.

Romo shot a 2-under-par 70, which not only put him in a tie for 29th (the low 65 players and ties after the Friday round make the cut) but also was a shot below the 71s of the last three Safeway winners (Kevin Tway, 2018; Brendan Steele, 2017-2016; Tony Grillo, 2015) but way, way below the 75 of Phil Mickleson.

“It wasn’t as disappointing as the score,” said Mickelson of his round, a remark one might expect to hear from an amateur such as Romo, not a Hall of Famer such as Mickelson. “I shot 3-over, but I hit two out of bounds on five, back to back. That kind of ruined the round.”

Nothing can ruin this tournament for Romo, who carries a 1.1 handicap (meaning he ought to give a pro strokes, in theory) and had five birdies and three bogies.

Starting on the 10th hole with Beau Hossler and Michael Gellerman, Romo began the round by holing a 50-foot putt for a birdie.

“The cup looked real big after that,” said Romo, “so that helps. Every time I play in one of these events, get lucky enough to get an exemption, I kind of get a chance to see what you’re not good at. Very apparent it was putting over the last year, so I just a lot of work put into it. I’ve been putting well, so it was nice to come out here and keep that going.”

Nantz, who does the Masters telecast every year — “A tradition like any other” – sent a text to another announcer asking whether he would be available Sunday if Romo, the retired quarterback, played golf instead off analyzing football.

Maybe getting ahead a little bit, but one has to be prepared.

“I think you’re always attacking,” said Romo of his strategy for how many rounds he has remaining in the Safeway. Silverado, among the vineyards some 60 miles north of San Francisco, is a country club course with enough problems — as Mickelson can verify — to be challenging.

Romo thought he might play well. “My practice sessions have been better,” he said. “It makes you excited to come out and test your game.”

Scott’s game has been tested and proven everywhere, but he hasn’t won in a couple of years. His problem, after the USGA changed the rule and eliminated anchoring the club against the body, had been the putter.

“I’ve been putting really nicely this whole year,” said Scott. “I haven’t fiddled with it since the Tour Championship (March)." Now 39, Scott said the Napa Valley's oaks and eucalyptus (an Australian native tree) make him feel comfortable.

Molinari hit only two fairways but at 6-under had the magical short-game play he showed when winning the 2018 British at Carnoustie. He played in Europe last weekend, then flew here on Tuesday and said he still was jet-lagged. No sleep? No sweat.

“It helps to know,” said Molinari, “you’re going to be able to make putts.”

Tony Romo will second the motion.