Barcelo leads Chitimacha Louisiana Open after 14 one-putt greens

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Published: Thursday, March 24, 2011 | 10:28 p.m.

Rich Barcelo fired a 6-under 65 Thursday morning and grabbed the first-round lead at the Chitiamacha Louisiana Open, the first domestic stop on the 2011 Nationwide Tour schedule. Barcelo closed with a 35-foot birdie putt on his final hole to separate himself by one stroke from a trio of others.

Scott Gardiner, Aaron Watkins and Carl Paulson all posted 5-under 66s at the Le Triomphe Country Club course and share second place.

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2011 CHITIMACHA LOUISIANA OPEN

The Chitimacha Louisiana Open is the first event on the 2011 Natonwide Tour to be played in the United States.

Bob Heintz, Matthew Giles, Michael Thompson, Fran Quinn and 2003 champion Brett Wetterich are knotted at 67, two strokes back.

Barcelo was 1 over through his first seven holes on the back nine, but then turned things while battling a wind that changed the complexion of the course.

“It was playing 180 degrees different today than it did Tuesday in the practice round,” said Barcelo, who is making his eighth start in this event dating back to 1999. “I’ve been here a lot and I’ve seen all the wind conditions.”

Thursday’s wind came out of north-northeast and turned some difficult holes on the back nine from lions to lambs. The 485-yard 14th usually plays into a headwind and was the second-toughest par 4 on Tour last year, yielding only 16 total birdies over four days. The field chalked up a record 15 birdies there today.

“I hit 3-wood into the green for my second shot there the other day,” said Barcelo. “Today, it was a 9-iron.”

Barcelo’s lead was threatened during much of the afternoon by Paulson, a 40-year-old veteran who has played very little competitive golf over the past 5 ½ years thanks to a series of back problems.

Paulson opened his round with back-to-back birdies before he aced the 199-yard third hole with a perfect 5-iron. It was his first hole-in-one since the second round of the 1999 Cleveland Open.

Paulson got to 7 under through 15 before suffering two bogeys on his final three holes.

“I think mentally I got a little tired but that will sharpen up,” he said.

So will the field as players begin to get their sea legs under them to begin the year. The Tour opened with tournaments in Panama and Colombia, both of which were plagued by weather. The latter, the Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open, was hampered by daily thunderstorms that eventually forced the tournament to be cut to 36 holes.

“It’s hard to get any momentum going because you have to go home for a couple of weeks,” said Watkins, who posted a second-round 65 to match the course record in South America and was within striking distance when officials were forced to cancel the third round. “It’s tough because when I go home I usually sit on the couch for four or five days. I putted good the last round in Colombia, which gave me a little momentum coming into this week.”

First-Round Notes:

--Leading money winner Brenden Pappas had five birdies and a triple bogey while shooting a 2-under 70. Pappas captured the weather-plagued Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open, which was shortened to 36 holes, two weeks ago.

--Veteran Mike Heinen of nearby Lake Charles, La., is making his 16th start in this event, which is celebrating its 20th annual visit to LeTriomphe CC. Heinen posted a 1-under 70. Heinen, who teed it up in the tournament’s inaugural event in 1992, has made the cut 13 times in his previous 15 starts with his best finish a runner-up in 2002.

--Paul Claxton (5-over 76) is also no newcomer to Lafayette. Claxton is making his 15th career start here this week. The Georgia native won the tournament in 2001 and was also runner-up in 2007. He has made the cut in eight of his previous 14 starts.

--Jake Younan-Wise had a pair of eagles on the front nine. He eagled the par-5 first hole and the par-5 fifth hole. Those were the only sub-par holes for the former Texas Tech Red Raider, who wound up shooting a 4-over 75.

--Carl Paulson recorded an ace at the 199-yard third hole. Paulson used a 5-iron for his hole-in-one, the 15th in tournament history. Paulson needed only eight total strokes for his first three holes, which covered 1,140 yards. Paulson started his day birdie-birdie-eagle and was 4 under through three holes.

--The 485-yard 14th hole was the second-toughest par 4 on the Nationwide Tour last year. The hole, which normally plays into the wind, yielded only 16 birdies over four days and had a scoring average of 4.430. With the wind at the players’ backs Thursday, the hole gave up 15 birdies and played to a scoring average of 4.273. Friday’s forecast is for the winds to shift to the south-southeast at 10-20 mph, with gusts to 25 mph.

--The 14th hole was changed in 2006 from a 540-yard par 5 to a 485-yard par 4. In the past five years, there have been an average of 5.4 birdies on that hole per round. Thursday, there was an all-time, single-round high of 15 birdies registered. This was only the third time in 21 total rounds since it was changed to a par 4 that double-digit birdies were recorded. There were 11 in the opening round in 2007 and 10 in the opening round in 2009.

--The 555-yard first hole, playing straight downwind, was the easiest hole on the course. The hole yielded 11 eagles and 79 birdies on the day compared to 47 and six bogeys. The hole played to a scoring average of 4.336.

--Martin Flores uncorked the day’s longest drive, a 377-yard shot at the 485-yard 14th hole. Flores ranked No. 11 on the PGA Tour in Average Driving Distance (300.7 yards) and his longest drive of the year was a 365-yard shot at the Reno-Tahoe Open.

--Scott Gardiner (66) celebrated his 35th birthday on Tuesday. Jeff Brehaut withdrew prior to the start of the round and was replaced in the field by Frank Lickliter II. Todd Bailey withdrew during the first round due to a back injury. Aron Price (68) was a perfect 13 of 13 in fairways hit.

--Rich Barcelo (65) had 14 one-putt greens, and only 20 official putts for his round. Fran Quinn (67) had 21 total putts. On the other hand, John Mallinger (75) had 20 putts on the front nine and 37 total. He finished at 4 over par despite hitting 15 greens in regulation.