MIDLAND, Texas – Aaron Goldberg and Jamie Lovemark fired 6-under-par 66s Thursday and share the first-round lead at the WNB Golf Classic on the Web.com Tour.
New Zealand lefty Tim Wilkinson, and Seattle-area natives Andres Gonzales and Luke List are one shot back at Midland Country Club. List is No. 2 on the money list and looking to retake the lead from Casey Wittenberg, who is not entered this week.
Seven players are knotted at 4-under 68, including Michael Putnam, Justin Hicks, two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton and Monday qualifier Morgan Hoffman. Another 13 players are jammed in at 3-under 69.
Goldberg stuck to his game plan Thursday morning and focused on his strength, hitting fairways – he ranks tied for sixth in the category in 2012.
“If you’re anywhere in these fairways, you can work with the wind and hit a shot into the pin,” said Goldberg, who is tied for 117th in average driving distance (284.4). “I hit fewer drivers today because 3-wood and hybrid fits the doglegs a little bit better. Some of these guys that are longer than me can cover the doglegs and just blow it over it. I can’t do that so I’ve got to try and fit it into the doglegs.”
Goldberg hit 13 of 14 fairways and took advantage of solid iron play to match his second-best start in 22 tournaments this year.
“If you get off the fairways, you’re in the trees and the rough,” he said. “I put myself in good position. I didn’t do anything crazy and just took advantage of some par 5s.”
Goldberg didn’t nearly take advantage of the longer holes the way Lovemark did.
The 2010 Player of the Year played the quartet of par 5s in 6 under par, rolling in two birdie putts and chipping in twice for eagle.
“My chipping, putting and short game has been awful,” said Lovemark. “It’s usually the best part of my game and something happened. I’m not really sure what, but it’s been by the worst part of my game. I’ve tried to adjust to it. I hope it’s getting better and today was a step in the right direction.”
Lovemark continues on the road to recovery after having back surgery last August to correct a herniated disc. The former Southern California All-America also decided it was time for some shock therapy on the greens and he opted to use a belly putter for only the second time in his career.
“I made all my 10-footers. I made all my putts inside of 10 feet, which is awesome,” he said. “This whole year I’ve been missing my six- to eight-footers and not really getting much going but today I made some nice putts to save par.”
--Jerod Turner (82) withdrew after completing the first round.
--This week’s field features 23 of the top 25 money winners in 2012 and 54 of the top 60. The only players in the top 25 not competing in Midland are No. 1 Casey Wittenberg and No. 18 Hudson Swafford.
--This is the second this year, and the second time in his career, that Aaron Goldberg has held/shared the first-round lead. Goldberg was a co-leader at the Cox Classic, firing a 9-under 62 to share the lead with Luke Guthrie and Bubba Dickerson.
--This is the first time in his Web.com Tour career that Jamie Lovemark has held/shared the lead after the first, second or third rounds. The only time he’s been on top of a leaderboard came at the 2010 Mexico Open, where he defeated B.J. Staten in a playoff to collect his first Tour win.
--Goldberg, one of 13 players to start all 21 tournaments this year, has made the cut in 13 starts and ranks No. 53 on the money list. His best finishes are a tie for sixth at the Mexico Open and a tie for ninth at the Panama Claro Championship.
--Lovemark had back surgery after nine events in his rookie season in 2011 and started 2012 on a Major Medical Extenstion. Coupled with 2011 earnings ($34,693), he had 16 events to make $633,473, equaling No. 125 from the 2011 PGA Tour money list to extend his extension through the remainder of the season. The John Deere Classic was his 16th start and only a victory would have allowed him to continue. He was tied for eighth after 54 holes but finished tied for 45th with a 75 on the last day to lose his Tour card.
--Lovemark has made four cuts in seven Web.com Tour starts this year with his best finish a tie for 11th at the Midwest Classic. He entered the week No. 142 on the money list. He had a pair of eagles on par-5s second and 15th holes Thursday, chipping in on both holes.
--Luke Guthrie, winner of last week’s Albertsons Boise Open, fired an even-par 72. He is tied for 57th.
* Oklahoma State All-American Morgan Hoffman shot a 62 on Monday to qualify. It was the fourth time this year he has been successful in the open qualifier. Hoffman also qualified for the Rex Hospital Open (tied for 56th), United Leasing Championship (tied for fourth) and Cox Classic (tied for 59th). He received sponsor exemptions in other events and has made seven total starts this year. He is No. 103 on the money list. Hoffman shot a 4-under 68 and is one of seven players tied for sixth place, two shots off the lead.
--Danny Lee, winner here in 2011, becomes the first champion to return to try and defend his title since 2004 title holder Charley Hoffman came back in 2005.
--Over the years, only nine of 20 WNB Golf Classic champions (including Danny Lee) have returned the following year to try and defend their title. Of the previous eight who came back, only two made the 36-hole cut – Franklin Langham, 1993 winner, tied for 26th in 1994; Charley Hoffman, 2004 winner, tied for 63rd in 2005. Four past winners have never returned – Chad Campbell (2001), Brandt Snedeker (2006), Marc Leishman (2008) and Garrett Willis (2009).
--The Web.com Tour moves to east next week for the Chiquita Classic in suburban Charlotte, N.C. The tournament will be held September 24-30 at The Club at Longview in Weddington, moving there after being held near Cincinnati the past two years. Last year Russell Knox cruised to a three-stroke win at TPC River’s Bend, finishing at 25 under par for his first career title.