WEDDINGTON, N.C. -- Charlotte resident Jason Kokrak gave stock car racing legend Richard Petty a brief putting lesson before starting play at the Web.com Tour’s Chiquita Classic. By helping Petty -- the King of NASCAR and the tournament’s honorary chairman of the event -- Kokrak got some good vibes of his own and, as a result, carded eight birdies that translated into a 6-under 66.
Kokrak’s score earned him a share of the first-round lead with five other players, including two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen along with Russell Henley, Skip Kendall, Will Wilcox and Scott Dunlap when play was halted by darkness at 7:14 p.m. with 39 players left to complete their opening rounds at The Club at Longview.
“I got to give Richard Petty, the winningest driver in motorsports, a quick putting lesson before I teed off and just being in his presence must have rubbed off on me a little bit. I putted really well today and if I can eliminate the bogeys the next few days, I think I can do some damage,” Kokrak said. “It’s really nice to be home this week. I’ve gotten used to traveling on the PGA Tour this year, but it’s nice to be sleeping in my own bed.”
Kokrak is making just his second start on the 2012 Web.com Tour after registering just one top-10 performance, a tie for ninth at the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, thus far in 23 starts as an rookie on the PGA Tour. He missed the cut two weeks ago at the Albertsons Boise Open.
Starting at the 10th hole, Kokrak had three consecutive birdies before suffering back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 13-14. The two-time winner on the Web.com Tour in 2011 then was bogey-free the rest of the way, scattering five more birdies, including two in a row to finish the round.
Janzen managed to make in through 17 holes before his round was stopped by darkness. He scattered six birdies and no bogeys on his card but was disappointed not to be able to finish.
“I was hoping we could get to the last tee before they blew the horns because it’s worth it to finish in the dark,” he said. “Instead of me having an 8:15 tee time for the second round, I’ll now come back an hour earlier and finish, then eat something and go back out there.”
Henley was in the first grouping off the 10th tee in the morning, but he played two holes before fog moved into the area, forcing almost a 90-minute suspension of play.
“I wish we wouldn’t have had to stop early on. I like to either go or not go,” he said. “After we resumed play and finally got going, the rest of my round was pretty good.”
Partial First-Round Notes:
--The Chiquita Classic is the 23rd of 27 events on the 2012 Web.com Tour schedule. Thursday marked the first time in Web.com Tour history that an event has been played in the Charlotte market. The first two Chiquita Classics were held in the Cincinnati area.
--A total of 20 of the top 25 Web.com Tour money winners are entered this week. Those missing are Nos. 1 and 2, Luke Guthrie and Luke List, as well as No. 7 Andres Gonzales, No. 12 Scott Gardiner and No. 14 Shawn Stefani.
--Defending champion Russell Knox shot 4-under 68.
--Sweden’s Robert Karlsson, a veteran of the PGA Tour and European Tour, is making his first start on the Web.com Tour since the 2000 Lakeland Classic (missed cut). Karlsson, a member and resident at The Club at Longview, shot 4-under 68.
--Wes Short, Jr., an alternate who got into the tournament on Monday afternoon when Steve LeBrun withdrew, shot 4-under 68 in his first appearance in a Tour event since the 2009 Buick Invitational on the PGA Tour. Short’s status in 2012 is a Major Medical Extension.
--Will Wilcox’s six consecutive birdies (Nos. 16-3) tied a Chiquita Classic tournament record for best birdie streak (Drew Weaver, 2011, Round 4) and it was just one birdie shy of equaling Nick Flanagan’s 2012-best run of seven in a row earlier this year in Round 2 of the Mylan Classic.
--Brad Fritsch registered a pair of eagles in posting a 5-under 67. It marked the 45th time this year that two eagles had been made in a round on the Web.com Tour.
--Morgan Hoffmann, a top-25 finisher last week at the WNB Golf Classic, opened with 4-under 68.