Dickerson overcomes difficulties to take Day 1 lead at Stadion Classic

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Published: Thursday, May 05, 2011 | 9:23 p.m.

Bubba Dickerson’s opening round at Stadion Classic at UGA on Thursday had all the ingredients for a difficult day. Start with two consecutive missed cuts coming into the week, add a troublesome back that has caused him problems for three weeks, mix in one of the Nationwide Tour’s toughest courses, and toss in an early-morning tee time after overnight temperatures hovered near 40 degrees.

“I’m from Florida and I don’t like cold weather,” said the former U.S. Amateur champion, who somehow managed to put together a solid 6-under 65 that put him in the lead after the opening 18 at the University of Georgia Golf Course.

2011 STADION CLASSIC

PGA Tour player Bubba Watson is the tournament host of this year's Stadion Classic.

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“The ball wasn’t going far in the morning so the long holes were playing longer,” he said. “It felt like the greens were frozen because the ball just wouldn’t stop.”

Dickerson, who is No. 6 on the money list courtesy of three top-16 finishes, hit enough fairways and greens and rolled in enough putts take the first-day lead, his first lead on tour since the third round of the 2009 Chitimacha Louisiana Open, which he went on to win in a playoff.

Dickerson nearly distanced himself from the field and was 7 under through 15 holes but failed to birdie the par-5 17th and then bogeyed the final hole for 65, one shot off the current course record.

“On any course, you’ve got to putt well to shoot well,” he said. “You can hit two perfect shots on any hole and make par if you miss putts. The key thing is you’ve got to putt good.”

Argentina’s Miguel Carballo gained ground late in the day, closing with a 4-under 31 on his final nine for a 5-under 66. Veteran Marco Dawson is third, two shots back. Sweden’s Mathias Gronberg is at 3-under 68, along with Travis Bertoni, John Mallinger and Rich Barcelo. 

Dawson, also one of the early finishers, agreed with Dickerson that the 7,253-yard layout will not give up a lot of low scores this week.

“You can talk to a lot of guys that hit the ball well today and shoot 75 if their ball didn’t catch a slope right or did catch a slope and went the other way,” he said. “A few of mine hit the slopes just right and ended up close. It seems that there are a lot of shots where you’re either real close or real far away.”

In addition to playing solidly, sometimes a player needs a little luck, which is what Bertoni received on the par-4 fourth hole. The 27-year-old Californian dumped his second shot in a greenside bunker. Playing partner Jeff Curl had chipped up to about a foot away and Bertoni blasted out of the sand and watched his ball ricochet off Curl’s and into the cup for a birdie-3.

“I hit a really good shot and I probably would have had eight to 10 feet for par and got lucky,” he said. “It was probably as good as I could do because it was straight downhill and I was short-sided. Sometimes you get lucky.”

Aaron Watkins shot an even-par 71 despite a quadruple bogey-7 at the par-3 16th hole. Watkins started his round on the back nine and turned the back nine in 4-over 40. He was 1 under through his first six holes but wound up hitting two balls in the water and needed a 10-footer to make his 7.

“I hit the ball pretty good all day and putted well,” he said. “I was starting to need a calculator to add them up on that hole.”

Watkins rebounded with a 4-under 31 on his second nine. He is currently tied for 24th.

First-Round Notes:

--Brendan Pappas withdrew during the round because of a bad back. Scott McCarron withdrew during the round because of a bad shoulder. Brian Smock (84) and Andrew Magee (81) withdrew after completing the first round.

--The first-round scoring average for the par-71 layout was 72.988, and only 23 players in the field broke par. Last year’s opening round average was 72.628. The UGA course was rated as the third-toughest on tour in 2010. There were only two eagles, both at the par-5 17th, by Will Strickler (70) and Fresh Express Classic winner Daniel Chopra (71).

--Steve Pate, winner of the 2010 Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open, is making his final start this week on the Nationwide Tour. The veteran from California turns 50 on May 26 and will join the Champions Tour shortly thereafter. Pate shot a 4-over 75.

--Bubba Dickerson hit 9 of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens in regulation and had 27 putts. Dickerson shot 70-74 last year and missed the cut by one stroke. Miguel Carballo shot scores of 73-74 and missed the cut. Marco Dawson posted scores of 75-73 a year ago and also missed the cut.

--The Nationwide Tour’s leading money winner Mathew Goggin is playing at the PGA Tour stop this week -- the Wells Fargo Championship in his current hometown of Charlotte, N.C. Goggin carded a 2-under 70 in the opening round at Quail Hollow Club and is tied for 22nd. Bill Haas owns the lead with an 8-under 64.