It might have taken him almost nine hours to complete his first round Thursday, but Roger Tambellini’s patience in two different kinds of weather eventually paid off with the lead after the first day of the Nationwide Tour’s Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open.
The lanky, 36-year-old Californian used a hot start and then held on to post a 7-under-par 64 and enjoys a one-stroke lead over Matt Davidson, the first-round leader at last year’s event in Wichita, who still has seven holes to go to complete his round. Four players, including Kevin Johnson, a winner in Wichita in 2006, and Australian Matthew Goggin, the Nationwide Tour’s leading money-winner this year, trail by just two strokes.
Tambellini’s round not only was a season-best score but also matched his lowest first-round ever in a Nationwide Tour event. He shot 64 on Thursday at both the 2001 Gila River Classic and the 2009 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic.
Play was suspended for four hours starting at 10:40 a.m. due to a large thunderstorm that rolled through the area and dumped almost two inches of rain on the North Course at Crestview Country Club. When play resumed in the afternoon, the field was faced with constant 25 mph southwest winds that gusted up to 30 mph. First-round competition was called for the day due to darkness at 8:33 p.m. with 69 players still left to complete their opening rounds. First-round play will resume at 7:00 a.m. on Friday and second-round tee times will start at 8:00 a.m.
Tambellini, making his first appearance in Wichita since 2005, opened his day with four consecutive birdies and then birdied the par-4 11th hole from five feet before the horns blew. After play resumed, Tambellini got a break from the golf gods at the par-5 14th when his tee shot missed going out-of-bounds by a foot. The three-time winner on the Nationwide Tour capitalized by making a five-foot birdie putt on the hole and finished his day with a short birdie putt at the par-5 18th.
“In the end, it turned out all right. It took a long time to do but was well worth it,” Tambellini said after his round. “My start took the pressure off. It was very tough this afternoon and I’m happy to get in with this round. Today, everything was clicking like it needed to be and I hope it clicks the rest of the week.”
Both Johnson and Goggin carded bogey-free 5-under rounds. For Johnson, it was easily his best start to what has been a disasterous season thus far. Johnson had made only two cuts in seven starts and his best finish is a tie for 39th at the Fresh Express Classic.
“The way my season has gone, I’m really excited with today’s round. It’s been a real struggle but today, I hit some shots that resembled a professional,” Johnson said.
Goggin also was rock steady. After making short birdie putts on two of his first four holes, Goggin chipped in for a birdie at the difficult par-4 6th, and almost chipped in again at the par-4 10th hole. He closed by getting up-and-down for birdie from the left greenside bunker at No. 18.
“I played really well. I hit the ball much better than I did last week and I feel encouraged,” he said.
Eight other players, including Kyle Thompson, the winner of last week’s Rex Hospital Open, are just three strokes off the lead. Thompson’s 67 today was his fifth consecutive round in the 60s.
--Thursday marks the first time in his Nationwide Tour career that Roger Tambellini has led after an opening round. The circuit has not had a first-round leader/co-leader go on to win since Brendan Steele claimed the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island last year.
--Thursday’s delay was similar to what happened in Wichita two years ago on Thursday when play was stopped for 2:40 due to dangerous weather conditions. It’s the fifth tournament on the 2011 Nationwide Tour with a suspension/delay of play.
--It was a tale of two nines for Tim Fleming. After shooting a 2-over 37 on his front nine, Fleming rallied with a 6-under 30 on his second nine, including birdies on his last four holes.
--Paul Claxton and Gary Christian both extended their streaks of par/better rounds to 13 consecutive today, the best runs of the year on the Nationwide Tour. Claxton posted a 2-under 69 while Christian shot 1-under 70 today. It was also Claxton’s eighth straight round in the 60s at Crestview Country Club dating back to Round 2 of the 2009 event.
--Michael Sims had the only eagle of the day on a par-4 hole, making 2 at No. 11. … Australian Mark Hensby, making his first appearance in this event since he was tied for second in 2003, shot 4-under 67. … 1997 winner Ben Bates made his 16th appearance in this event and carded a 2-under 69 in his 49th round.