ATHENS, Ga. -- Kent Jones made birdies from everywhere in Thursday’s opening round of the Stadion Classic at UGA on the Nationwide Tour. Jones made birdies from the fairway, from the rough and even from the trees. He holed long putts for birdies, tapped in for birdies and salvaged pars from odd places.
“Everywhere,” he said. “I didn’t chip in but that’s about it. It was a fun day. I made a lot of putts obviously and when I hit it in trouble I found a way to get out and was making birdies from trouble spots.”
Jones hit only six fairways, but one-putted 14 times en route to a course-record 8-under 63 and the first-round lead. Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen carded a 6-under 65 and shares second place at the University of Georgia Golf Course. Joining Janzen are Monday qualifier Brandon Brown and David Skinns, a Monday qualifier at last week’s South Georgia Classic in Valdosta, where he tied for 18th to get into this week’s event.
Doug LaBelle played with the leader and fired a 5-under 66 on his own for a tie for fifth place. Joining him are Jim Herman, Chris Nallen, last week’s winner Luke List and Georgia rookie Hudson Swafford.
Jones was in the first group off the first tee in the morning and got off to a rocking start by holing a 40-foot birdie putt at the first hole.
“It went up, then over a hump and then down,” laughed Jones. “I’m in the lower bowl and the pin is back right. It’s dewy and it’s the first green. I was thinking it would be a nice two-putt.”
It was a better one-putt.
Jones added five more birdies quickly and was 6 under through his first 11 holes.
“It seems that when you get off to a good start and get under par early and when you get a 10- or 20-footer, you don’t really have to try hard to make the putt,” he said. “You just relax and let it happen and you putt better that way. I did that today. It’s not easy to do every day.”
The 43-year-old Jones went from journeyman to magic man at the 356-yard 11th hole. His tee shot nestled in the trees to the right. He had a small tree above him and a big tree in front.
“There was a small window there,” he said. “Under the tree and over the next one. I was hoping to get on the front of the green somewhere and two-putt for par. I hit it solid and it jumped a little. It wound up about eight feet behind the hole. That’s what happens when you shoot 8 under.”
It was pretty easy for Jones and Labelle, who could have chalked up a 13-under 58 on their best-ball score.
“I’m aware of what’s going on,” said Jones. “I think I did a good job of not dwelling on it and just continuing to play. I was playing smart and giving myself chances and all of a sudden I hit it inside of three feet the last two holes. It just kind of happens and all of a sudden you’re 8 under.”
Jones’ score matched the lowest of his pro career, which began in 1992 and spans 460 total starts. Jones previously shot a 63 in the third round of the 2005 Deutsche Bank Championship.
“It was a great putting day,” he said, racking up a meager 22 official putts. “I made pretty much all of the putts I had a chance to make.
Janzen, who has eight career wins among his 600 PGA Tour starts, didn’t make everything but he did make some of the critical putts that he’s been focusing on -- those in the 4- to 10-foot range.
“That has been the part that has hurt me the most,” he said. “I did very well today. I think I was 5 for 8. Seventy percent is the number. That’s where the top 20 players in the world are. Whoever wins, that’s where they are, 70 percent.”
Janzen bogeyed his next-to-last hole and then canned a 10-footer to save par on the final hole.
“I would not have been happy with bogeys on the last two holes, especially after hitting good shots,” said Janzen, who missed the cut at last week’s South Georgia Classic, his first Nationwide Tour start since 1990. “You plan everything out and you execute and it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you miss a shot and it works out great, it hits a tree and bounces back in the fairway.”
--Kent Jones broke the course record of 64 set by Martin Piller in the third round in 2010. Piller went on to win the tournament that year. Scott Gutschewski matched Piller’s 64 the next day.
--Defending champion Russell Henley fired a 2-under 69. Henley was just finishing up his college career with the Bulldogs last year when he won as an amateur, only the second amateur ever to win on Tour.
--Former Georgia standout Hudson Swafford got off to a nice start with his 5-under 66. Swafford is making his first start in this event after missing out on getting a sponsor exemption into the field the past two years. Swafford did get in four rounds on the course in 2009, the first year the event was held at UGA, when he caddied for teammate Harris English. English went on to shoot scores of 68-73-70-71—282 for a 2-under total that put him tied for 27th.
--The Nationwide Tour will take next week off before resuming play at the BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greenville, S.C. The tournament will be staged at three different courses in the greater Greenville area -- Thornblade Club (host), Greenville CC and Carolina CC -- May 14-20.