The hallmark of J.J. Killeen's 2011 Nationwide Tour season is he's played a lot on the weekend. Coming into this week's Utah Championship, Killeen had played 13 Nationwide Tour events and made 12 cuts. He's well on his way to playing the weekend for a 13th time.
Playing under ideal scoring conditions in the morning, Killeen blistered Willow Creek Country Club with 10 birdies and a bogey for a 9-under 62, good enough for a two-stroke lead over Joel Edwards and Scott Gardiner. Killeen's 62, which included birdies on three of his last four holes, tied the course record (62 by Jeff Gove in 2009) and set a first-round scoring record for this 13-year-old tournament.
"The course is in great condition," Killeen said. "I'm happy to get off to that start, for sure. It was a good finish."
Although he's been a mainstay on the weekend in 2011, Killeen's best finishes are fifth-place performances at the Melwood Prince George's County Open and the Rex Hospital Open. He's 25th on the money list.
"I've had a couple of chances to do really well and haven't. But I have been consistent. I've just been waiting for a week for it to come all together," he said. "I have been making a lot of cuts out here, and just making the cut means you have a chance on the weekend."
Killeen, who joined the Nationwide Tour in 2008 and is in his fourth season, lost in a playoff to Aron Price at the 2008 Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship in California for his best Tour performance. His 62 also established a career-best 18-hole score. He had a 63 at the 2009 Cox Classic, although that was also a 9-under performance.
Killeen feasted on Willow Creek's five par 5s, making birdie on all of them. The only blemish on his scorecard was a bogey at No. 9, when his approach landed in the bunker and he failed to get up and down. "I left the (par) putt on the lip. But that stuff's going to happen," he added.
Edwards, 49, is looking toward the Champions Tour while playing semi-regularly on the Nationwide Tour. He turns 50 in late November and is trying to prepare his game for starts on that Tour in 2012.
"I'm out here to compete. I'm not exempt [on the Champions Tour]. I have to play as good as I can, and when I get my shot next year we'll see," Edwards said.
If his Utah Championship first-round play is any indication, he's on the right track. He shot a bogey-free 64 Thursday, his low Nationwide Tour round since he turned in a 64 at the 2006 Rheem Classic.
"I played really, really well. I don't know if it could have been better. It was just a really solid day. I missed in the right spots and hit some really good irons," said Edwards, who has played six Nationwide Tour events this year, making two cuts. His best finish was a tie for 39th at the Stadion Classic at UGA in Athens, Ga.
Edwards is joined in second by Australian Scott Gardiner. James Hahn is tied for fourth, a stroke behind Edwards and Gardiner.
--There were seven bogey-free rounds Thursday, but leader J.J. Killeen, who shot a 9-under 62, was not among that group. He bogeyed the ninth hole. The bogey-free rounds came from Paul Claxton (66), Joel Edwards (64), Jeff Gove (68), Cliff Kresge (66), Rob Oppenheim (67) Alistair Presnell (66) and Jay Williamson (67).
--Michael Sims had the longest birdie streak. Playing the front nine first, he bogeyed his second, third, fourth and fifth holes. He added one more birdie (on the seventh) but had no birdies the rest of the way. He shot a 5-under 67.
--Of the two past Utah Championship winners in the field, 2006 winner Craig Kanada and 2008 champ Brendon Todd both shot 2-over 73s.
--There were 10 eagles Thursday, with all of them coming on par 5s. Jason Kokrak had two, becoming the 22nd player this year to record that feat (Daniel Chopra has done it twice). Kokrak's eagles came at Nos. 3 and 12. The others eagles were courtesy of Adam Bland (No. 1), David Branshaw (No. 10), Ken Duke (No. 3), Stephen Gangluff (No. 17), Scott Gardiner (No. 3), Bradley Iles (No. 10), Danny Lee (No. 1) and Steve Wheatcroft (No. 17)
--Forty-nine-year-old Joel Edwards won one Nationwide Tour event, the 1999 Mississippi Gulf Coast Classic. He's also played 393 PGA Tour events, with his lone win coming at the 2001 Air Canada Championship. His last Nationwide Tour top 25 was a tie for 21st at the 2006 Rheem Classic.
--Prior to this season, J.J. Killeen had played in three previous Utah Championships, missing the cut all three times. His low score at Willow Creek before Thursday's 62 was a second-round 69 in 2008.
--Thursday's opening round was Bradley Iles' ninth at Willow Creek. He fired a 68 and is tied for 26th, giving him nine consecutive par-or-better rounds in Utah. He first played in the Beehive State in 2008, shooting 70-70 to miss the cut. He duplicated that feat in 2009, again coming in with back-to-back 70s before heading home. During last year's runner-up finish to Michael Putnam, Isles shot rounds of 70-65-63-71.