Likable Levin Leads Bay Hill by Three
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

You may not know much about the guy who holds the biggest first-round lead of the year after managing to shoot a six-under 66 at Bay Hill, but Spencer Levin is one of the most well-liked guys on the PGA Tour. Last year at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, where players can call in ahead of time to request their pairing, no one else was in more demand than Spencer.

“I don’t know, I guess people like playing with me,” he said, laughing. “That wouldn’t have been the case when I was 18.”

At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Levin drew a favorable group for the first two rounds. Playing with good friend Steve Marino, along with Peter Hanson, Levin felt relaxed, like he was just slapping it around in a practice round (which he does often with Marino).

What’s more impressive about Levin’s round was he teed off in the afternoon wave, battling tough, blustery conditions with gusts around 30mph. It’s also his first start at Bay Hill.

“Six-under – I wouldn’t have even thought about that on the range,” said Levin. “I was just kind of hoping anything around par would be good.”

Even Tiger Woods was impressed. “Nobody went low (in the afternoon) except for Spencer,” said Woods after scrambling to post a one-over 73. “Most of the good scores were in the morning.”

Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan are the closest contenders, three shots back of Levin, coming in with a pair of 69s in the morning under calmer winds. On a day where the scoring average at Bay Hill was 74.7, the highest of the season, Levin somehow managed to go low.

“Which course was he playing?” I said half-jokingly to GW Cable, Marino’s caddie. Shaking his head, he said, “Not the same one.”

He made back-to-back sand saves in the two finishing holes, rolling in ten-footers for par on both. Putting was the key to his round with 24, not to mention a chip-in on No. 2 for birdie.

“I made some putts that — when you have a low round, you kind of make a few of them, and that’s what I did,” Levin said. “My putting was really good today. It was nice.”

After spending a few years on the mini tours and the Nationwide Tour, Levin’s finally feeling comfortable and the results are starting to show. He’s held at least a share of the first-round lead three times in 2011. In nine starts this season, he’s notched five top-25s, including two top-tens.

“Physically, swing-wise and all that, I wouldn’t say I’m really doing anything different,” said Levin. “I still try and keep maintenance on it with my dad (and coach), we’ll work on little things here and there, but that changes week-to-week. So honestly, I don’t know. I’ve been trying to practice hard and the more I’m out here, the more comfortable I’m getting, slowly but surely.”

Levin came close to earning his first victory on Tour last month at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, where he lost in a playoff to Johnson Wagner. After firing a solid six-under 65 on Sunday, he was shown on the telecast sucking back Marlboro Reds as he waited for Wagner to finish.

Unlike most others, Levin doesn’t hide the habit. He smokes a pack a day, give or take. The fiery but chill 26-year-old Californian also isn’t shy about liking to have a good time, which usually just means throwing back a few Bud Lights with friends.

“If you do everything perfect in life, it’s going to be pretty damn boring,” said Levin during the Honda Classic. “So I live by that. That’s what my grandpa said one time to me, so I liked that.”

Levin’s established his mastery of going low on Thursdays — now the question is whether he can put together three more at a difficult course with a strong field.

“What did Nicklaus say?” said Levin. “‘You can’t win in the first round, but you can lose it.’ That’s true. I’m just going to go out there and just try to do what I’ve been doing. It’s easier said than done, but I’m just going to try not to get ahead of myself and deal with adversity as well as I can.”

(AP Photo/John Raoux)