Andres Gonzales was the only player in the field to play mistake-free in the opening round of the Soboba Golf Classic on Thursday, and as a result holds the lead after the initial 18 holes. The 28-year-old from Olympia, Wash., mustered only four birdies, but his 4-under 67 was two shots better than anyone else.
Gonzales, a playoff runner-up here last September, saved par six times Thursday morning and owns a lead for the first time in his career.
“It sets up nice to my eye,” he said of the par-71 layout at the Country Club at Soboba Springs. “You’ve got to hit the fairways in order to score. The grass is very lush so you want to avoid the rough because you can’t hit long irons out of it. It’s a much different course this year.”
Statistics back Gonzales up. Last fall when the fairways were hard and the rough thin and wispy, the first-day scoring average was 70.922 and 59 players posted scores in the 60s. This time around, with softer fairways and plenty of rough the scoring average was 73.589, and only nine players carded rounds below 70.
Sharing second place behind Gonzales are Derek Fathauer, Justin Bolli, Charlie Beljan, Bubba Dickerson, Chris Baryla, Jeff Corr and a pair of lefties -- Ben Briscoe and Tim Wilkinson.
Gonzales, who finished second at the season-opening Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship, moved to the top by dialing it down.
“I laid back on some holes that I didn’t lay back on last year,” he said after hitting 10 of 14 fairways. “You can get into trouble off the tee here. There are some really good driving holes out here and I managed to play them pretty well by laying back when I needed to.”
Gonzales wasn’t outstanding Thursday, but steady was good enough.
“I didn’t miss any putts that I should have made,” he said. “There were a couple of good looks that I had that just didn’t go in.”
“This course is awesome. It’s a good test,” said Fathauer. “I don’t think anybody is going to say anything bad about this course. You don’t want to have to get the ball up-and-down out here. This is as good as it gets.”
Dickerson is hoping it gets better. The former Florida Gator is still struggling with new equipment this season.
“I played three different sets of irons in Louisiana,” he said about his 28th-place finish two weeks ago. “It’s getting there. It’s getting better. I’m playing a new ball and new irons and the ball spins a lot more than the old one I used to play. I’m trying to get everything matched together, that’s the big issue for me.”
A big issue for Briscoe, a rookie from Wales, was settling down after a double bogey on the second hole and a bogey on the third.
“If you had told me on the fourth tee that I was going to shoot 69, I would have been grinning like a Cheshire cat,” he said. “I would have signed my score and gone in to watch the Masters.”
Instead, Briscoe opted for patience and experience.
“I make a lot of birdies anyways and I just tried to remind myself of that,” said Briscoe, who was error-free the rest of the day. “There’s a couple more birdies out there than I realized. In the practice round it’s easy to get defensive and see all the trouble.”
Briscoe hit only six fairways, but stayed in contention with a dozen one-putt greens.
-- Alex Cejka (76) withdrew after the round. Corey Nagy, Fabian Gomez and Zack Miller withdrew during the round because of injuries.
-- Jerod Turner, 2009 champion, had a hole-in-one at the 158-yard eighth hole. Turner used a 9-iron to register his eighth career ace and his third in competition. His other two came in mini-tour events. The hole-in-one is the third in tournament history.
-- Carlos Franco shot a 1-over 72. Franco started on the front nine and turned in 5-over 41. He rallied with birdies on four of his final five holes for a back-nine 31.
-- The first-round scoring average of 73.589 was the highest single-round average in tournament history. The highest previous average of 72.836 came in the final round of 2009, the initial year of the event.
-- The Nationwide Tour will move to northern California next week for the TPC Stonebrae Championship at the TPC Stonebrae in Hayward.