Shane Bertsch jumped out to the first-round lead of the Nationwide Tour’s inaugural Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open with a 6-under-par 64 on Thursday. He leads by one stroke over Gavin Coles, Brendan Steele, Andrew Svoboda and Rob Oppenheim.
Play was suspended due to darkness at 6:51 p.m. ET, with six players yet to complete their round. Those players will be back in position at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, with the second round teeing off as scheduled at 7:40 a.m.
Making just his fifth start of the year, Bertsch carded a bogey-free 64 -- highlighted by a successful 18-foot birdie putt on the par-4 seventh hole and a tremendous up-and-down for par on the par-4 18th hole.
“I had two bad swings all day and got away with par with both of them,” said Bertsch, speaking of par saves on Nos. 8 and 18. “I hooked it in the water (on the last hole) when I didn’t need to hit driver anyway … but I had 230 (yards) and hit a 4-hybrid to about 10 feet. It was a lot better finish that way than hitting a nice shot and then having a two-putt. It was better to make a 10-footer for par.”
“It was nice to feel like Retief Goosen (today),” said Bertsch, who ended the day with 25 putts. “Today, even the last putt, it was like Retief winning those U.S. Opens … so smooth. That was by far the best thing of the day. It felt great to putt like that for a day.”
Bertsch was solid on the greens during Thursday’s opening round, needing just 25 putts overall.
“Putting has always been one of my best stats but I’ve certainly battled it,” said Bertsch, who has used different belly putters each of the last two weeks. “I’m not afraid to talk about the yips, because the yips are the yips. It has been since the age of about 25 for me. I’ve always been able to stay with the short putter and trick it with different grips but for whatever reason, even my saw grip has been yippy lately. But it flowed today. But perfect greens don’t hurt.”
Putting woes have been the least of Bertsch’s woes over the last four years. He has battled injuries and illnesses during that time, including an ongoing battle with vertigo since 2006 (which he treats with medicine), a broken foot at the end of the 2008 season and a broken hand suffered earlier this year.
“It has been brutal,” said Bertsch, who owns Nationwide Tour victories at the 2000 and 2005 BMW Charity Pro-Am.
Bertsch is making just his fifth start on the Nationwide Tour. After finishing tied for 34th at the Utah Championship, he has since missed his last three cuts.
First-Round Notes: Brendan Steele opened with a 5-under 65, just one week after serving as the officiant at a friend’s wedding at Torrey Pines in San Diego. … Gavin Coles, who celebrated his 42nd birthday on Tuesday, opened with a 5-under 65. … The first-round leader/co-leader has gone on to win just twice in 27 events this season, and both of those came in the first two events of the year (Robert Gates at the Michael Hill New Zealand Open and Jim Herman at the Moonah Classic). … Sam Saunders, grandson of Arnold Palmer, opened with a 3-under 67. … Seven-time Nationwide Tour winner Jason Gore posted his most recent win at last week’s Miccosukee Championship. He struggled on Thursday with a 5-over 75 in his attempt to win in back-to-back weeks.
At the time of the suspension, the par-4 17th hole had played the toughest on Thursday with a 4.350 average, while the par-5 first hole was the easiest at 4.678. … The par-70 Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass had played to an average of 70.422 at the time of the suspension on Thursday. … Bogey-free rounds were carded by Shane Bertsch (64), Andrew Svoboda (65) and Craig Barlow (66). … Chris Kirk, currently No. 2 on the official money list, withdrew prior to the start of the first round with a wrist injury. He is expected to play at next week’s season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island, which will feature the top 60 players on the official money list. … Sean Dale (73) was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. He signed for a par-4 on the 17thhole, but actually had a bogey.