Australian Cameron Percy fired an 8-under 63 Thursday morning and grabbed the clubhouse lead in the weather-delayed opening round of the Soboba Golf Classic. Percy rolled in a six-foot eagle putt at the par-5 18th hole to finish off a back-nine 29 and move into first place in the Nationwide Tour event.
New Zealand’s Bradley Iles, Aussie Peter Lonard and Doug LaBelle share second place at 6-under 65 at The Country Club at Soboba Springs.
Craig Bowden, Steve Wheatcroft, John Kimbell, San Diego native Aaron Goldberg and Scott Gordon are knotted at 5-under 66. Troy Merritt is also 5 under but still has two holes to finish.
Thursday’s opener was halted for two hours in the afternoon when lightning developed in the area. A trace of rain fell as the front moved through, accompanied by wind bursts of 40-50 mph. Play was halted for the day at 6:45 p.m. due to darkness with 59 players still on the course.
Percy was all smiles after needing only 24 putts on some very quick greens.
“They are fast, but they’re nice. You don’t have to worry about hitting it, you just roll it on line,” he said. “I could play on greens like this every day for the rest of my life. The faster, the better.”
The majority opinion was that the greens were both soft and fast, and occasionally slick.
“Downhill putts are tough,” said Iles. “You can have a downhill putt that can really get away from you. The first five holes, we had some 20- 25-footers that wound up 10 feet past.”
The speed didn’t seem to bother Iles, who hit 14 greens in regulation.
“I holes three 25- 30-footers, which seems like a long putt on these greens because they’re so fast and they’re trickling all the way to the hole,” he said. “Anything over 25 feet is a lag putt. You can’t go after the any long putts because they’ll wind up a good 10 feet past.”
Russell Henley started his professional career par-birdie-par and wound up shooting a 3-under 68. Henley, winner of the Stadion Classic at UGA in May as an amateur, needed a sponsor exemption to get into the field this week.
“I thought about it a little bit but tried not to think about it too much,” said Henley of his debut. “I wanted it to feel like any other tournament. This is a bonus tournament for me and I’m just going to use it to get a feel for it and for these types of courses.”
Henley became only the second amateur ever to win a tournament on the Nationwide Tour when he was victorious on his home course at the University of Georgia.
Former Georgia Bulldog All-America Harris English also made his professional debut. English won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in July and became only the third amateur to win in tour history. English, like Henley, played in several amateur events in the summer and both were members of the United States Walker Cup team.
English finished his rollercoaster round of 1-over-par 72 just as darkness fell. English’s scorecard featured only five pars, coupled with six birdies and seven bogeys.
“I got off to shaky start and didn’t get used to the greens right away,” he said. “I got it going and then started hitting it above the hole. I was all over the place. I would either hit it in there three feet or three-putt from 30 feet. I was all over the map but it was fun and 1 over is not too bad to start.”
Play was suspended from 1:55 to 4:00 p.m. due to threatening conditions in the area. The final groups in the afternoon teed off at 1:50 p.m. The first groups were just making the turn when play was halted. A brief wind burst of 40-50 mph was associated with the storm front. Very little rain fell during the delay. Play was halted by darkness at 6:45 p.m. with 59 players on the course. First-round play will resume at 7:00 a.m. Friday. The second round will be delayed 30 minutes and the first time will be at 7:20 a.m. instead of the previously scheduled start time of 6:50 a.m.
--La Quinta resident Troy Kelly withdrew during the first round due to an injury. … Matt Davidson (77) withdrew due to a shoulder injury after completing the first round. … Scott Dunlap withdrew during the round.
--11-time PGA Tour winner John Cook was in the gallery Thursday. Cook, who has won eight times on the Champions Tour including three this year, was following John Mallinger and John Merrick.
--Valero Texas Open winner Brandan Steele was also in the crowd on Thursday. Steele, a 2010 NWT graduate who won last year’s Tour Championship, was following longtime friend and Monday qualifier Nick Bollini. Steele grew up in the area and played his high school golf matches on this golf course.
--Bradley Iles had a pair of eagles. He dunked a wedge from 131 yards on the par-4 14th hole for his first one. He then drilled a 3-iron to four feet on the par-5 sixth hole. At last week’s Albertsons Boise Open, Iles also had a pair of eagles in his opening-round 68.
--Cameron Percy had a pair of eagles on par 5s. He hit a 4-iron to 8 feet on No. 6 and then hit 6-iron to 6 feet at No. 18.