Australian Andrew Buckle fired a 9-under 63 Thursday afternoon and grabbed a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the Nationwide Tour’s Chiquita Classic in suburban Cincinnati.
Buckle started his round at TPC River’s Bend with a bogey but chipped in for birdie on the next hole and then reeled off nine more birdies to take sole possession of the top spot, one in front of Cincy native Wes Homan, who was in the next-to-last group in the afternoon and birdied seven of his final 10 holes.
Aussie Steve Dartnall, Texan B.J. Staten and Ohio State grad Ryan Armour share third place at 7-under 65 along with Georgia’s Josh Broadaway, who birdied five of his final six holes.
Five others, including Columbus native Kyle Reifers, are logged together at 6-under 66 and another 16 are jammed up at 5-under 67.
A total of 55 players posted sub-70 scores while 109 in the field of 156 are at par-or-better heading into Friday’s second round.
This is the third time in a dozen tournaments this year that Buckle finds himself leading the pack after Day 1. Two weeks ago at the rain-soaked Mexico Open, he fired a 7-under 65 but missed the 36-hole cut when he posted an 80 in the second round.
“I finished up the first round really well and I wasn’t really expecting for us to go straight to the first tee. I thought we’d have a bit of a break. I just lost my concentration a little bit and before I knew it I had it to 8 over on the first nine,” said Buckle, who stumbled with a pair of double bogeys and a triple bogey en route to a 44. “It was nice to have two weeks to just forget about it and get ready for this tournament.”
The entire field has enjoyed a two-week break following Mexico and has taken dead aim on a course that Tommy Gainey blitzed with a 27-under-par score en route to the title last year.
“After the first hole I never really felt like I was out of position. Whenever you feel good about your game you’re always going to like the course,” said Buckle, who has made nine of 11 cuts this year but has only one top-10 finish. “I drove it well and my irons were really solid. Of course, when you shoot a good score like that you putt well and I did that today.”
Buckle matched his career-low score and finished the day with only 22 official putts to lead the field in that category.
Armour, who has spent much of the two-week break with family in friends three hours away in Akron, also putted very well in moving into contention late in the day. His biggest putt of the day turned out to be a 20-footer for bogey at the par-4 ninth hole.
“At the time I wasn’t thinking anything of it. I had just eagled No. 8 and was 5 under,” said Armour, who is No. 13 on the season money list. “I thought if I made double I could still go the back nine and shoot 3 or 4 under on the back and everything will be all right. It wound up keeping the momentum going.”
Armour rallied with consecutive birdies at Nos. 11 and 12 and then closed with an 18-footer for birdie at the closing hole.
“If you drive it in the spots you need to drive it, you can be aggressive,” he said. “Then it’s just a question of making the putts and I made some today.”
--This week’s event features one of the strongest fields to date. There are 24 of the top 25 players on the current money list entered, with No. 2 Erik Compton, winner of the Mexico Open, the only one missing. In all, 47 of the top 50 players competing, with No. 32 Sunghoon Kang and No. 43 Miguel Carballo the others not playing here. Kang is competing at the PGA Tour’s Viking Classic.
--This is the sixth time in his career and the third time this year that Andrew Buckle has held/shared the first-round lead on the Nationwide Tour. His best finish this year is a tie for fourth at the BMW Charity Pro-Am.
--Wes Homan is making only his fourth career start on the Nationwide Tour this week. Homan was born and raised in Cincinnati and still lives here after finishing his college career at Southern Methodist University in 2006. He missed the cut in his previous three starts.
--Leading money winner Mathew Goggin had an eagle and three birdies but wound up shooting an even-par 72. Goggin is the Tour’s only double winner this year (Panama Claro Championship, Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open) and will earn a promotion to the PGA Tour with a third victory in 2011.
--J.J. Killeen and Rob Oppenheim lead the Tour with 10 cuts made in the first 11 tournaments this year. Killeen fired a 4-under 68, while Oppenheim posted a 1-under 71.
--Brad Iles (67) is among the leaders in fairways hit (13 of 14/92.9%) and greens in regulation (17 of 18/94.4%) are the first round. Iles also had 30 putts for the day.
--Brenden Pappas is making his first start in nearly two months. Pappas, winner of the weather-shortened Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open in February, has been sidelined with back troubles. The South African native who now lives near Dallas carded a 5-under 67.
“I shouldn’t be playing golf with my back the way it is, so to shoot a good round like this really helps my confidence,” he said. “I’ve been struggling to find a swing that doesn’t hurt my back for the last three days and I found this one this morning. I’ve changed my swing completely. I’m trying to take it back short and keep the club around 10 o’clock on the backswing.”
--Australian Alistair Presnell had a pair of eagles on par 5s. Presnell eagled No. 8 and No. 11 en route to a 3-under 69.
--Monday qualifier Chris Ross had an interesting round of 3-over 75. The 2009 Eastern Michigan University grad is making his initial career start on the Nationwide Tour and had seven birdies on his card along with five pars. However, four bogeys, a double bogey and a quadruple-bogey 8 at No. 9 turned his good round to bad and dropped him into a tie for 130th place.