Golf

Former PGA Rookie of the Year in contention in Kentucky

Andres Romero hit from the bunker onto the 18th green during the PGA Tour Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club Thursday in Nicholasville. Romero finished 7 under for the day.
Andres Romero hit from the bunker onto the 18th green during the PGA Tour Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club Thursday in Nicholasville. Romero finished 7 under for the day. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Andrés Romero had an exceptional 2008 season, his first on the PGA Tour.

The Argentine golfer had three top-10 finishes that season, including a win in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He tied for seventh in the PGA Championship and eighth in The Masters. That made him an easy pick for Rookie of the Year.

Romero hasn’t won a PGA event since, but he might just get lucky in Kentucky — he was the early leader in the clubhouse at 7-under-65 as the morning golfers finished at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club on Thursday.

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Last June he ended a 10-year drought of pro victories after besting Sergio Garcia — last year’s Masters champion — in the BMW International Open, regaining his European Tour status after entering that event on a sponsors exemption.

Romero finished seventh last week at the John Deere Classic, in which he shot 64 in the first and third rounds. The Barbasol — happening opposite the British Open, where golf’s biggest names are this week — is his fourth PGA start of the season.

“(In 2008 I) played really good in the majors and (I) won a tournament here in the States, so it was a great year for (me),” Romero said through a translator, Angel Monguzzi, who’s also his caddy. “After that (I) had ups and downs but having that experience, it always helps.”

In another timeline, Romero this week might have had a shot to write a redemption story instead of taking a turn through horse country. The British Open is at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland for the first time since 2007, the year Romero finished third behind Padraig Harrington and Garcia. He was seven shots off the lead entering the final round but managed to take a two-stroke advantage into the 17th hole, where he melted down and after which found himself trailing by two strokes.

“I had it,“ Romero said in a GolfDigest story this week. “I know I should be an Open champ.“

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Andres Romero, left, celebrated with caddy Angel Monguzzzi after sinking a putt on the 18th green during the PGA Tour Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club Thursday in Nicholasville. Romero finished 7 under for the day. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Day one on the Champions course at Keene Trace was kind to Romero, who birdied five of the first six holes and bogeyed just once, on the par-4 13th. He bounced back for three more birdies in the final five holes.

“(I) saw (myself) leading but it didn’t affect (me),” Romero said. “(I) really just missed a couple of putts on nine and ten, a short chip on 11 and then three-putted 14, that kind of hurt (me). But then (I) came back with a couple of birdies and felt really good.”

He wasn’t sure if his score would end as the day’s best. Billy Horschel and James Hahn, both ranked in the top 100, teed off at about 2 p.m.

“(I’m) really happy with the score. (I don’t) know if it’s gonna hold or not but (I don’t) really mind,” Romero said. “Seven under to start is great. (I’ll) just practice the rest of the day and relax.”

The Barbasol Championship is the first non-major PGA Tour event to be held in Kentucky since 1959. Valhalla Golf Club near Louisville hosted the PGA Championship in 1996, 2000 and 2014.

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Andres Romero, center, walked with caddy Angel Monguzzzi, right, after sinking a putt on the 18th green during the PGA Tour Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club Thursday in Nicholasville. Romero finished 7 under for the day. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

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