FARRAGUT, Tenn. -- Casey Wittenberg set the tone early Thursday, firing a 8-under 63 at Fox Den Country Club in the first round of the News Sentinel Open on the Web.com Tour. Wittenberg sits atop a crowded leaderboard that includes plenty of PGA Tour experience.
Patrick Sheehan, Lee Janzen, Will MacKenzie, Doug LaBelle II, Alex Aragon and Kevin Foley all finished at 6 under par, two-strokes off the lead.
Twelve players find themselves at 5 under par, three shots back. Notable players in this group include: Paul Claxton, Glen Day, Erik Flores, Brad Fritsch, Aaron Goldberg, Shane Bertsch, Josh Broadaway and Alex Coe.
Wittenberg got off to a hot start, making birdie on his first hole of the day the par-5 10th. With some great iron play, the Memphis, Tenn., native would then go on to make four more birdies and an eagle to turn in 7-under 29.
“I hit some great iron shots on my front nine,” said Wittenberg, who went to college at Oklahoma State. “I drove the ball in the fairway, which set me up for some good chances to hit good approach shots.”
One of those good approach shots came on the 17th hole, his eighth hole of the day, where he one-hopped an 8-iron from 158 yards.
“I was fortunate to have that ball go in on 17,” Wittenberg said with a grin. “I hit a good shot, but got a good break as well. It was just one of those things.”
Wittenberg has posted a round of 63 in two previous tournaments this year and has won both. But Wittenberg, who currently sits No. 1 on the money list, knows that it is going to take a certain mindset if he is going to have a chance to win on Sunday.
“It’s one of those golf courses where you have to shoot low scores,” he explained. “And I’m still going to have to go lower than this to get into contention.”
What makes this round even more impressive is that the two-time-winner on the Web.com Tour was paired with major champions John Daly and Lee Janzen. Even though it was a competitive round of golf, Wittenberg seemed to enjoy the experience.
“I played with two players with major championships under their belts, which is something I would like to strive for in my golf career. I have a long way to go to get to that point,” the 27-year-old said. “They are great guys, and we had a good chat out there today.”
Janzen, who is paired with Wittenberg the first two rounds, is relying on his putter to help him stay patient and is very pleased with his first round score.
“I stayed patient, patience only really works if you make some putts,” Janzen revealed. “When I had a good yardage in the fairway I attacked the pin and hit good shots and made the putts. So I feel that 6 under is probably as good as I can do from where I was all day long.”
Janzen, a veteran of the PGA Tour, offered some insight about his mindset heading into Friday’s second round when asked about his strategy with all the low scores that are being posted.
“You just have to be patient and disciplined and hit the ball in the right spot off the tee,” the Florida Southern College alum explained. “If it means hitting one more club into the green, that’s what you have to do, the greens are soft enough to where that’s okay.”
Janzen may be focused on the task at hand, but that doesn’t mean he was not taking notice of what was going on in his pairing. When asked about Wittenberg, Janzen offered some pretty high praise.
“He’s probably wondering why he’s not on Tour,” said the two-time U.S. Open champion. “And if you watched him play today, you would’ve been wondering the same thing. Everything was textbook, the right line off the tee, solid shots, knocking the pin down, making the putts. It was a good round.”
--Shane Bertsch fired a 66 that included an 80-foot bomb for birdie on the par-3 16th.
“I had a really tough two-putt there,” Bertsch pointed out. “I would be really happy with a 3 and I rolled it in for a 2. That was the most unlikely thing to happen today.” The PGA Tour veteran currently sits in a tie for seventh, three shots off the lead.
--Alex Aragon, who won the 2012 TPC Stonebrae Championship, carded a 66. Since his win, the Stanford Cardinal has struggled, missing eight cuts over a 10-week stretch. “Yeah, I went through about two months of just struggling,” Aragon revealed. “The scores were pretty bad and the outcomes were bad, but it wasn’t that bad. I never really felt like it was that bad.”
Aragon has started to turn things around the last two weeks with finishes of tied for 12th and tied for 58th. The California resident currently sits at 16th on the Web.com Tour money list.
--Local product Wes Roach, who is playing in his first season on the Web.com Tour, shot a 68. The Knoxville native carded a solid round that included four birdies and one bogey.
--The next stop on the Web.com Tour is the Mylan Classic at Southpointe Golf Club in Canonsburg, Pa., Aug. 27-Sept. 2.