Cliff Kresge hadn’t had much success with a belly putter the past few weeks, so the 41-year-old decided to change putters and return to a more conventional approach. Both worked well on Thursday as Kresge putted beautifully en route to an 8-under 63 and sole possession of the first-round lead at the Nationwide Tour’s Albertsons Boise Open.
Kresge matched his career-low score on either the Nationwide Tour or the PGA Tour with seven birdies and an eagle at the par-71 Hillcrest Country Club.
He leads by one over Canada’s Barrett Jarosch and by two over Won Joon Lee, Ted Purdy, Gavin Coles, Todd Fischer, Peter Tomasulo and Martin Piller. Another 14 players are jammed together at 5-under 66, including No. 2 money-winner Jamie Lovemark, 1995 champion Frank Lickliter, last week’s Utah Championship winner Michael Putnam and Sam Saunders, grandson of golfing legend Arnold Palmer.
“I’ve played better than my scores,” said Kresge, who has made only four of nine cuts on the Nationwide Tour and five of 13 cuts on the PGA Tour this year. “I’ve been playing good enough to win golf tournaments but I haven’t putted good enough to win golf tournaments. Today I putted good enough to win a golf tournament.”
Part of the reason was a new putter, which he decided to experiment with on the practice range on a whim.
“I started hitting putts exactly where I was aiming. I figured I’d give it a shot,” he said. “If you can make it changes your whole game because it doesn’t put pressure on you to get it in the fairway or get it close because you feel that when you can make putts, the game’s not that hard.”
Kresge didn’t roll in any putts of length, but the Florida resident canned a few in the 10- to 20-foot range. He also holed a wedge from 81 yards for an eagle-2 to give him the lead over Jarosch, a 27-year-old from Edmonton by way of the University of Denver.
If Kresge thought he putted well, he should have checked Jarosch’s stats. Jarosch holed a 50-footer for birdie at No. 5, canned a 20-footer to save par at No. 6, holed out from a bunker for birdie at No. 8, added a 15-foot birdie at No. 12, a 12-foot par saver at No. 13 and capped things off with a 25-foot eagle at No. 16.
“I didn’t hit the ball all that well but my putter was phenomenal,” he said. “All I did was get the ball on the green and it seemed to go in the hole, which is nice. I predominantly hit a lot of greens, hit the ball pretty decent but don’t usually make all that much. Today, it seemed like I couldn’t miss.”
First-Round Notes: There are six past winners playing this week: 1995 Frank Lickliter, 66; 1999 Carl Paulson, 75; 2002 Jason Gore, 67; 2003 Roger Tambellini, 73; 2007 Jon Mills, 74; 2008 Chris Tidland, 69. … Ted Purdy is making only his second start on the Nationwide Tour since 2003 when he was a member of the graduating class that moved onto the PGA Tour in 2004. Purdy has made only 11 of 25 cuts on Tour this year and is ranked No. 175 on the money list. His only other Nationwide Tour start since 2003 was at this event in 2008, when he missed the cut. … Chris Baryla, a member of last year’s Nationwide Tour graduating class, is making his first start since the Shell Houston Open in early April. Barlya had hip surgery and has been on the mend of late. His rookie season on Tour cut short, he made only 2 cuts in 7 starts prior to the surgery.
Kevin Chappell bounced back nicely from last week’s 75-80 missed cut at the Utah Championship with a 4-under 67. He is currently No. 5 on the money list. … Ewan Porter posted a 6-under 29 on the back nine en route to a 5-under 66. … Michael Putnam, winner of last week’s Utah Championship, birdied his first four holes and five of his first six. He finished with a 5-under 66. … Jason Gore, winner of this event in 2002, also birdied his first four holes en route to a 4-under 67.
Brady Schnell had back-to-back eagles, on the par-5 second and third holes. He is only the third player to accomplish that feat on Tour this year. He is also the third to do it at this event – both Chris Tidland (2004) and D.A. Points (2007) did it on those same two holes. … Jin Park shot an even-par 71 thanks to 18 pars. He hit 13 greens in regulation and two-putted each of them. He had 31 putts on the day. … Thursday’s first-round scoring average of 69.731 is the third-lowest opening round average in the tournament’s 21-year history. The lowest first day came in 2007 when the average was 69.519, followed by 2005 when the average was 69.604.