ATHENS, Ga. – University of Georgia grad Brendon Todd, Rafael Echenique of Argentina and Korea’s Whee Kim all posted 5-under 66s Thursday and share the first-round lead at the Stadion Classic on the Web.com Tour.
New Zealand’s Tim Wilkinson, Brenden Pappas of South Africa and Michael Putnam of Washington are tied at 4-under 67. Seven more players – including former Bulldog Ryuji Imada, 2010 champion Martin Piller and leading money winner Edward Loar – are knotted in seventh place, two off the pace.
Todd three-putted the final hole for bogey and otherwise would have held the outright lead and taken his turn to carry the Bulldog banner. The tournament is played at the University of Georgia Golf Course, where UGA players Russell Henley (2011) and Hudson Swafford (2012) have captured the past two titles.
“As I was making putts out there, I was thinking that maybe I was remembering some of these lines a little better than I thought I would,” said Todd, a 2007 UGA grad. “I think you just don’t pull out your yardage book as often and second-guess yourself. I think you step up there with a little bit more familiarity and you’re able to rip off the shot you see with a little more confidence.”
Todd didn’t hit many fairways (8 of 14) or greens in regulation (9 of 18), but was nearly flawless on the greens prior to the hiccup at the last.
“I pretty much made every putt I saw from 14 through 8,” he said after finishing with 21 total putts. “These are bent grass greens and look good to my eye. The ball just rolls off the putter a little better and I trust the lines I see.”
Echenique, a 32-year-old Web.com Tour rookie, also did his best work on the greens, thanks to a new putter he put in his bag earlier this week.
“This putter gives me better rhythm,” he said. “I was putting so-so the last few weeks and for me today was very good. I tried to focus more on my rhythm and it worked better today. I didn’t make any long putts, but I made a lot of shorter ones.”
Echenique, who averaged 27 starts on the European Tour from 2007-11, admitted he’s homesick and looking forward to heading back to South America next week, but for now has to keep his mind on the present.
“My mind is focused on this week,” he said. “I’ve started to play better and have been working on my concentration. I’m just concentrating on what I have to do here.”
Kim, a 21-year-old rookie, joined the leaders when he canned a 35-foot birdie putt on his final hole.
Wilkinson rebounded from disappointment last week in Valdosta, where he was disqualified after signing an incorrect scorecard following the opening round of the South Georgia Classic. He struggled to a 78 that day, but inadvertently signed for a 77.
“It was one of those things where I just didn’t check my card thoroughly enough,” he said. “I thought I did, but obviously I didn’t.”
Wilkinson noticed the mistake Thursday and verified it Friday morning before he teed off. The score was Wilkinson’s first over-par score in 13 rounds this year. He tied for sixth, tied for 10th and tied for 15th in his first three starts and got back on track Thursday thanks to a solid short game.
“You’ve got to hit a lot of different shots. You have to pitch it and lob it pretty well, but you have to bump and run a few out there,” he said. “It’s tight around the greens and you also have to have a pretty good bunker game.”
Wilkinson was 4-for-4 from the sand and needed only 24 putts on the day.
--This week’s field includes 45 of the top 50 money winners through the first seven events on the schedule. There are 37 of the top 40 competing, including the top 16 players.
--A total of 22 players posted sub-70 scores and 65 shot par-or-better scores.
--Brett Wetterich withdrew prior to the start of the round. There were no alternates available to fill his time slot and he was not replaced in the field.
--Will Wilcox, winner of last week’s South Georgia Classic, birdied his final two holes for a 1-under 70.
--Defending champion Hudson Swafford closed his day with back-to-back bogeys and settled for an even-par 71.
--Russell Knox (69) hit 14 of 14 fairways and leads in driving accuracy. Jeff Klauk (70) leads the field in greens in regulation (17 of 18).
--Todd’s 21 putts were the fewest in the field by three. Echenique, Bio Kim and Tim Wilkinson all had 24.
--There was only one eagle recorded, and it came on the 356-yard sixth hole. Zecheriah Potter, a 26-year old Monday qualifier from Kansas, made the 2 en route to a 2-over 73, and is tied for 89th place.