Wittenberg and Wilkinson share lead as play suspended in Jacksonville

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PGA.com news services

Series: Web.com Tour

Casey Wittenberg and Tim Wilkinson shared the first-round lead at the second annual Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open when play was suspended due to darkness on Thursday. The pair shot 3-under-par 67s after playing their opening rounds in the morning.

A total of 12 players were still on the course when play was called for the day at 6:53 p.m., including Matt Hendrix, who was 4 under par with one hole to play. They will return at 8:00 a.m. on Friday to complete their rounds, while the second round will get underway at 7:40 a.m.

Players battled windy conditions through much of Thursday’s opening round and the scoring average reflected it. The scoring average when play was called was 73.502 on the on the par-70 Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass layout, and only a dozen players had finished their rounds under par. Entering this week, the highest single-round stroke average on the Nationwide Tour in 2011 was 73.032 in the first round of the South Georgia Classic.

“It was a tough day out there today,” Wittenberg said. “You’ve got to hit quality golf shots on this course and with the wind today, it makes it that much harder.”

Wittenberg’s round included five birdies and two bogeys. The former Oklahoma State star closed his round by chipping in at No. 9 from 30 feet to give him the lead at the time. 

“I was just trying to hit as good a shot as I could,” he explained. “It came out pretty perfect and I just wanted to land it on the fringe but I got a bonus when it went in.”

Moments later, Wilkinson, a Jacksonville Beach resident, joined Wittenberg atop the leaderboard. After turning at just 1 under, Wilkinson finished 2 under on the back nine, including a 10-foot putt for a birdie on No. 9. He also drained a 40-foot putt for a birdie on No. 6.

“Those last few holes were very difficult, especially Nos. 6-9,” Wilkinson stated. “Those last four holes seemed to be straight into the wind, which made it very difficult. The wind was really a factor most of the day from No. 3 on.”

First-Round Notes:

--Seventeen-year-old Gavin Hall of Pittsford, N.Y., who earned a sponsor exemption into the field by virtue of winning the AJGA’s Junior Players Championship in September at TPC Sawgrass, carded a 75 and is tied for 95th. During the second round of the Junior Players, Hall made nine birdies on the Dye’s Valley Course en route to a 64.  His only other start in a professional event came at the 2010 Turning Stone Resort Championship on the PGA Tour, where he missed the cut after rounds of 78-71. 

--University of Florida graduate Camilo Benedetti recorded a hole-in-one on the 132-yard par-3 fifth hole with a 9-iron en route to an even-par 70. The hole-in-one was the third of his career on the Nationwide Tour. Earlier this year Benedetti made a rare double eagle during the first round of the Albertson’s Boise Open, holing a 4-iron from 247 yards at the par-5 third hole.

Benedetti becomes the first player to record a hole-in-one on a par 3 and a double eagle in the same year on the Nationwide Tour since Peter Tomasulo in 2008. Tomasulo made a hole-in-one on the par-3 12th hole in the second round of the Melwood Prince George’s County Open and a double eagle on the par-5 18th in the second round of the Chattanooga Classic.

--David Mathis won the inaugural Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open in 2010 with a 72-hole total of 8-under 272. That winning total was the highest on the Nationwide Tour in 2010 and highest since Vance Veazey won the 2009 Panama Claro Championship at 7-under 273.