BOGOTA, Colombia -- Veteran Peter Lonard of Australia fired a 5-under 66 Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship, the first event on the 2012 Nationwide Tour schedule. Lonard is joined at the top by Americans Brian Smock and Billy Horschel.
Morgan Hoffman and rookie Erik Flores are tied for fourth at the Country Club of Bogota, one shot back of the leaders.
Eight players, led by defending champion Brenden Pappas, are knotted at 3-under 68.
Three players couldn’t beat the darkness and weren’t able to finish play. That group will be back at the course and resume play at 7:30 Friday morning. Round 2 is scheduled to begin at 6:50 a.m.
The 44-year-old Lonard completed his round in the morning and held the clubhouse lead for most of the day. Horschel ran off a string of four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine to take the lead at 6-under before three-putting the final hole to fall into a tie.
“I’m going to have nightmares about that last one,” Horschel joked afterward. “I hit two good shots and I hit a great first putt that just broke off and left me with a two-footer. I didn’t want to leave myself with that. I got up there and had a little downhiller and wanted to let it die in the hole. I completely stopped my hands and the ball started left and stayed left. I just have just jammed it in the back. It’ll stick with me for about 20 minutes.”
Horschel’s miss cost him a share of the course record, first set by Tag Ridings in the first round two years ago.
“Other than that last one, it was a good day. I made a lot of birdies and had an eagle to start the day,” said the former Florida Gator. “It could have been better and I’ll take it.”
Thursday’s season-opener didn’t produce dramatically low scores despite the fact that lift, clean and place conditions were in effect, thanks to seasonal rains that produce almost-daily afternoon and evening storms.
“I don’t think it makes a massive difference,” said Lonard. “It’s more about controlling your ball. It’s important because the ball stops where it lands.”
It’s also important to pick the right clubs, given the fact that Bogota is about 8,400 feet above sea level.
“I’m probably one of the medium hitters so it’s about a 10-percent adjustment,” said Lonard. “If I want to squeeze a bit more than that I just hit it higher. The ball carries about 15 percent if you get it up in the air.”
The 44-year-old from Sydney has conditional status on the Nationwide Tour and hopes to get one more shot on the PGA Tour, where he averaged 26 starts a year from 2002-09.
“I’m no spring chicken and there comes a time when you have to decide whether you’re going to keep going or you’re not,” he said. “I suppose this is a make-or-break year. I’m not getting any younger. We’ll see how we go this year. Obviously this year is the only year I’m interested in at the moment. If I have a really bad year then I’m probably done but I’d like one more shot at the main Tour.”
Hoffman would appreciate a shot at any Tour. The former Oklahoma State All-America has no status on any Tour for the 2012 season. He missed qualifying for the final stage of the 2011 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament by a single stroke and now has to find ways to get into tournaments.
Hoffman’s move up the leaderboard came courtesy of his putter.
“My putting was on today,” he said. “I drained three big putts today, all of them over 40 feet. It was pretty crazy. My wedges weren’t really good but everything else went pretty well.”
--This week marks the start of the 23rd season of the Nationwide Tour. It also marks the 11th straight year that the Nationwide Tour’s opening event has come outside of the United States. The Tour began the 2002 and 2003 seasons in Adelaide, Australia. The Tour opened the schedule in Panama for six consecutive years (2004-09) before moving to New Zealand to start the 2010 season. Last year, the Tour once again began the schedule in Panama, which is the second tournament on this year’s schedule (Feb. 27-March 4).
--Six players are making their first career start on the Nationwide Tour this week -- Eric Flores (67), Hudson Swafford (68), Paul Haley (71), Jeff Cuzzort (75), Bio Kim (73) and Adam Long (76). There have been only 12 players ever to win a Nationwide Tour event in their first start. The last to do it was Miguel Carballo at the 2007 Movistar Panama Championship.
--Rookie Hudson Swafford, in his first career Tour start, got off to one of the best starts anyone could hope for. Swafford birdied his first two holes before making a par at No. 3.
“Why not try to birdie them all?,” he quipped afterward. Swafford finished with a 3-under 68.
--Rookie Hudson Swafford set a tournament record for the front nine. His 5-under 30 is one better than the 31 that eight players posted during the first two years of the event. Swafford birdied the 10th hole and was 6 under at that point but bogeyed three holes coming in and settled for a 3-under 68.
--Morgan Hoffman gained entry by way of a sponsor exemption. Hoffman, who turned pro last year after three standout seasons at Oklahoma State, is coached by Gary Gilchrist in Orlando, Fla. Gilchrist’s assistant is Carmenia Calle, the sister of Tournament Director German Calle. “She helped me out a lot and Gary does a lot of teaching down here with the kids and it just worked out for me,” said Hoffman.
--Defending champion Brenden Pappas shot a 3-under 68
--Ewan Porter had an interesting front nine that added up a to a 2-over 37. Porter started with three straight bogeys, then three consecutive birdies. On his final three holes he went bogey, birdie, double bogey. He finished with a 2-over 73.
--Charles Warren tied the tournament record with four consecutive birdies. Warren made birdies at Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 11. Jamie Lovemark had four in a row in the opening round in 2010. Warren ended the day at even-par 71,
--Thursday’s opening round was a far cry from last year’s first day, when only 3 ½ hours of actual play took place. Bogota had been plagued by an extended period of heavy rains that left the golf course saturated. More rain on Wednesday night pushed the start of play back five hours, and barely an hour passed when another delay came. The end result was 7 ½ hours of delay. Only half the field managed to start the first round, which wasn’t complete until Saturday morning. The 2011 tournament was eventually reduced to 36 holes because of more rain and additional delays Friday, Saturday and Sunday.