BOISE, Idaho -- In the 23 years that the Albertsons Boise Open has been held at Hillcrest Country Club, there has never been an easier opening day than the birdie blitz that took place on Thursday. When the dust settled on a calm, perfect day, the Web.com Tour field had posted a scoring average of 69.365 -- the lowest first-day number in tournament history.
A total of 104 players broke par on the 6,807-yard layout and only eight players turned in scores above 2-over-par 73. The number of birdies (646) was nearly double the number of bogeys (365).
“We were playing golf indoors a little bit today,” said Justin Hicks, whose early 6-under 65 would eventually get pushed back to a tie for eighth place.
Michael Putnam, Andrew Svoboda and Tyrone van Aswegen all posted 9-under-par 62s at various points in the day to share the lead atop a packed board. The trio also matched the lowest opening-round score since the tournament first arrived in the Treasure Valley back in 1990.
“It was as easy as it’s ever played,” said Putnam, who has made four previous starts in Boise. “Zero wind and a perfect temperature.”
Veterans Glen Day and Jeff Gove each posted 8-under 63s and hold down fourth place.
Luke Guthrie and Sam Saunders are tied for sixth place at 64.
Hicks is joined at 6-under by 2007 champion Jon Mills, Matt Weibring and Dawie van der Walt.
“This is probably the best weather we’ve had all year. There was no wind all day long,” said van Aswegen, who was in the third-to-last group of the afternoon. “The greens were pure. Just put it on your line and the ball’s going to go in the hole.”
It helps when you hit it close, as van Aswegen did.
“Six-footers are a lot easier to make than 12-footers,” he quipped.
Thursday’s course conditions were just the right medicine for those who needed to maintain their solid play, and it was the perfect remedy for those that have struggled of late, like Day, Gove and Mills.
Day, 46, missed most of last year with a broken foot and despite making six consecutive cuts entered the week at No. 95 on the money list.
“I don’t hit the ball very far but it’s usually pretty straight, so this course suits me,” he said. “The greens are good and I saw a lot of lines on the putts today. Obviously you’ve got to make putts to shoot those numbers.”
Day led the field with just 22 putts. Guthrie, Gove, Svoboda and Weibring all had 24. Putnam had 26, but was completely satisfied with his stress-free day.
“Today everything felt comfortable. I was never in between clubs and even if I was, I didn’t feel I was in between shots,” he said. “That’s what happens on days like today.”
Mills was just happy to be back in familiar surroundings. The Canadian-born Pennsylvania resident has made only one cut in six starts this season.
“It was fun. It was fun to play in a tournament and it was fun to play well,” said Mills, who admitted he’s been concentrating too much on the results each day. “It kind of started towards the middle of last year when I went on a run of not making any cuts. I wasn’t hitting the ball very well and started putting pressure on myself, and then feeling more pressure over tee shots and it would not end well usually. I’m trying to forget about results and just trying to swing and swing confidently.”
Jeff Klauk, making his first start in more than a year, shot an even-par 71. Klauk, first diagnosed with epilepsy in 2006, earned his PGA TOUR card in 2009 after finishing No. 3 on the 2008 Web.com Tour money list.
He spent 2 ½ years on Tour, highlighted by his rookie season in which he made 21 cuts in 29 starts and earned $1.24 million. He started suffering from ankle and back problems in 2010 and was limited to just 13 starts. He made only eight starts last year before his year came to an end in June.
Medication has helped him control the partial seizures that have plagued him for several years, but he underwent a procedure in April in which 108 electrodes were attached to the inside of his skull in an attempt to locate the source of the seizures.
“It was good,” he said of his first competitive round in 14 months. “I was a little nervous on the first tee, as I though I’d be. I made some silly mistakes, which I kind of figured was going to happen, but overall it’s pretty good. It’s been a long time. I just have been in tournament conditions. You really have to concentrate on every shot instead of just playing at home with your friends.”
Klauk hit 10 of 14 fairways, 11 of 18 greens and had 28 putts, but his score of 71 puts him tied for 105th.
Ryan Hietala, a Boise transplant, shot a 3-under 68 (tied for 39th). He announced earlier in the week that he isn’t retiring but rather preparing to “take a break” from competitive golf after this event. The 38-year-old will assume the assistant coaching duties for the men’s golf team at Boise State, among other things.
Hietala has made 234 career starts on the Web.com Tour and won twice – the 2005 Chitimacha Louisiana Open, and the 2008 Cox Classic. His wife, Jennifer, who played on the BSU women’s golf team, is due to give birth to the couple’s first child within the next week.
“The last three years have been tough financially for us,” he said. “I haven’t been playing great and I’ve been spending a lot of money and incurring a lot of debt, which golfers do. That’s part of the game. It’s time for me to be a good husband and a good father.”
Hietala joined the Web.com Tour in 1999 and played one season on the PGA Tour (2006), but has decided to join Head Coach Kevin Burton’s staff and give up the nomadic life of a touring pro.
“It could be right now, it could be Sunday. Her due date is the 27th but the doctor said it’s going to be before then,” said the expectant father. “The best-case scenario would be lifting the trophy and giving it a kiss and then going to the hospital. I’m having a little girl and I know she’s going to melt my heart.”
Patrick Cantlay, a two-time All-American at UCLA who turned pro earlier this year, carded a 2-under 69. Cantlay, 20, decided to forego his final two years of eligibility with the Bruins. Since becoming a professional in late June, Cantlay has made five of six cuts on the PGA Tour, but his T31 at the Wyndham Championship last month is his best finish thus far.
Cantlay, who was the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world for a record 55 weeks before turning pro, got in the field as a Monday qualifier. He shot a 63 to win medalist honors by three shots.
--J.J. Killeen, the Web.com Tour’s 2011 Player of the Year, is making his first start on this tour this year and fired an even-par 71. Killeen was a two-time winner last year and the Tour’s leading money winner. Thus far in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, he has made 13 cuts in 29 starts and is No. 153 on the money list with $371,001. His only top-10 finish came at the True South Classic, where he was solo eighth.
--Casey Martin, 40, shot a 3-under 68 in his first Web.com Tour round in nearly six years. Martin, the men’s head golf coach at the University of Oregon, made his last start on Tour (and his last cut) at the 2006 Oregon Classic (tied for 59th). Martin, winner of the 1998 Lakeland Classic, was back in the spotlight earlier this summer when he qualified for the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. He posted scores of 74-75 and missed the cut. Martin is making his seventh career start in this event – he has made the cut three times – and his first since 2005. Martin’s best finish in Boise was a tie for 30th in 2004.
--Scott Parel had a pair of eagles in Thursday’s opener, both on par 5s (Nos. 2 and 16).
--Andy Bare had a hole-in-one at the 121-yard 17th hole. Bare used a pitching wedge for his ace, which is the 23rd in tournament history and the 10th on that particular hole.
--The Web.com Tour moves to Texas next week for the WNB Golf Classic. The tournament will be held at Midland Country Club Sept. 17-23. Last year Danny Lee made a par on the first playoff hole to defeat fellow rookie Harris English for his first career title.