Four share lead after first round of Nationwide Tour Midwest Classic

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PGA.com news services

Series: Web.com Tour

J.J. Killeen , Nicholas Thompson, Travis Hampshire and Brian Vranesh all posted 8-under 63s and share the first-round lead in the Nationwide Tour’s Midwest Classic in suburban Kansas City.

Monday qualifiers Will Dodson and Chris Thompson shot 7-under 64s at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate and are tied for fifh place after the opening day.

MIDWEST CLASSIC

The 7,251-yard, par-72 Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2001.

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Jin Park, James Sacheck, Richard T. Lee, Won Joon Lee, Scott Weatherly, Jason Kokrak, Aaron Goldberg, James Nitties and Brock Mackenzie are piled together at 6-under 65 and only two off the pace.

“It’s fun to go out and shoot 62s and 63s,” said Hampshire, who fired a 63 in the third round of last week’s Price Cutter Charity Championship en route to a tie for third. “You know it’s going to be a birdie barrage and you try to make as many as you can. You stay aggressive. The greens are soft enough that you can throw it right at the holes.”

Just about the entire field took dead aim at the flags. The scoring average for the par-71 layout was 68.862 as 118 players in the 156-man field posted scores below par.

“It’s a good feeling to shoot something low,” said Hampshire, who had 10 birdies in the round. “You get more and more comfortable doing it.”

Nobody is more comfortable than Killeen these days. The 29-year-old Texan is looking for his third win in four weeks. Another victory here would earn the former TCU standout an immediate promotion to the PGA Tour.

“It’d be great to win again. I’ve got the same mentality I had for the other events,” said Killeen, who missed the cut last week after posting back-to-back winning scores of 22 under par. “Everybody’s goal out here is to move onto the PGA Tour and knowing that you’re already doing that does feel like you’re playing with ‘house money’ and so you’re a little calmer.”

His relaxed attitude has propelled him to No. 2 on the money list and locked up a berth for 2012.

“I really have played well the whole year it’s just that right now all parts of my game are really sharp,” said Killeen, whose 2-over 74 to begin last week was the only time he’s been above-par after the first day in 15 starts this year. “I took advantage of a couple opportunities and got a couple of good breaks and that’s how you shoot a really low score.”

Killeen needed only 22 putts to post his 63, the 18th sub-par score in his last 19 rounds. Hampshire had 25 putts and Thompson just 26.

“Numbers-wise, this course just falls into what we’ve been seeing the last four weeks,” said Thompson, who is 41-under in his last three starts. “You’ve got to pick a good game plan for the golf course and there you have to select the pins you want to go at. I have a pretty aggressive plan for this week. I like the way the course sets up for a driver.”

First-Round Notes:

--The four-way tie for first place is the most players tied after 18 holes this year. Thursday’s four-way tie represents the most players sharing the first-round lead since six players were after the first round at 2010 Panama Claro Championship (5-under 65).

--Brian Vranesh’s 63 is a career-best score. His previous low score on Tour was a 5-under 65 at the 2009 Fort Smith Classic. This is the first time Vranesh has held/shared the lead after any round in his Nationwide Tour career.

--A win by J.J. Killeen would push his season earnings to $425,586. Killeen is currently No. 2 on the 2011 money list. Mathew Goggin, who has been No. 1 for 14 of 16 events this year, is not playing this week.

--A win by Nicholas Thompson (No. 50), Travis Hampshire (No. 42) or Brian Vranesh (No. 95) would vault any of them into the top 25 on the money list. 

--Steve Friesen, winner of last week’s Price Cutter Charity Championship, shot a 4-under 67 and is tied for 29th after the first round.

--Billy Hurley III (70) hit all 14 fairways. He is No. 14 on Tour in Driving Accuracy. Matt Weibring (67) hit all 18 greens in regulation. He is No. 87 in GIR this year. J.J. Killeen’s 22 putts were the fewest of the day. Aaron Goldberg had 23 and Erik Compton had 24.

--Kevin Tway, son of former PGA Champion Bob Tway, is making his Nationwide Tour debut this week. Tway got into the field as a Monday qualifier. He shot a 2-under 69 and is tied for 76th. Tway is 0-for-3 in cuts made on the PGA Tour this year – he missed the cut at the Travelers Championship, John Deere Classic and RBC Canadian Open. He also missed the cut at the 2008 U.S. Open Championship, his only other Tour start.