Chris Kirk, sparked by a hole-in-one, shot a 6-under 65 Thursday to take the first-round lead at the Nationwide Tour’s Utah Championship. Kirk, who took last week off after winning the Knoxville News Sentinel Open, picked up right where he left off and grabbed one-shot advantage over Michael Putnam, Cliff Kresge and Fabian Gomez.
Seven players are tied for fifth place, two back of Kirk, who would gain an instant promotion to the PGA Tour this year if he were to win his third title of the year this week. Five more players are packed together at 3-under 68, including local favorite Daniel Summerhays
“I putted really well,” said Kirk, who had 21 putts on a cold, blustery day. “It was kind of strange because I hit a few sporadic but really good iron shots. I made some loose swings, too, but I think that was the result of the kind of day it was. The wind seemed like it was blowing in 20 different directions.”
Everyone in the field of 156 seemed to struggle with difficult conditions that had temperatures hovering in the mid-60s and steady winds of 10-20 mph.
“It affected every shot on the course,” said Putnam, who was the only player in the top 11 to play in the morning wave. “It was blowing every direction and it just wasn’t consistent. I guess I guessed right today.”
Kirk wasn’t exactly dialed in and knocking it close as he moved into the lead. The 25-year-old Georgian hit only five of 12 fairways and 10 of 18 greens.
“If that,” he said when asked about his accuracy. “I think they might have been generous with a couple of those. I misjudged the wind and was in the rough a lot. I hit a lot of good short-game shots to take some pressure off my putting.”
Kirk one-putted 11 times and didn’t have any official putts on two holes, one of them his 7-iron, hole-in-one from 191 yards on his 11th hole.
Kirk’s ace notwithstanding, his best shot of the day came on his next-to-last hole, the 421-yard eighth hole, where his tee shot missed yet another fairway.
“I was in the rough, about 215 yards, next to a tree and hit it over water to about five feet and made that for birdie,” he said of his 6-iron shot. “I guess you have to say the hole-in-one was the best, but I felt like that one was actually a better shot.”
Putnam faced the tougher conditions Thursday as an afternoon rain shower softened the lightning fast greens down just a touch.
“Some putts were ridiculously fast because of how firm and fast the greens were,” he said. “They’re as fast as we’ve seen all year, especially downhill. I can’t imagine they’ll get any slower as we get to the weekend.”
First-Round Notes: A total of 64 players posted sub-par scores, with 30 of them tied at 1-under-par 70 (tied for 35th). … The scoring average of 71.571 (+0.571) was the highest first-round average in relation to parat Willow Creek CC since 2002, when the average was 72.619 on a layout that was par-72 (+0.619). It was also only the third time in the tournament’s 12 years that the scoring average was above par. … Daniel Chopra withdrew after completing the first round. Chopra shot a 77.
Jerod Turner withdrew after the round. Turner, who has been battling back troubles during his rookie season on the PGA Tour, shot a 77. … Kevin Kisner, winner of last week’s Mylan Classic near Pittsburgh, shot a 1-over 72. … The high temperature in the morning was 66 degrees and the high in the afternoon was 64 degrees. Winds today were steady at 10-20 mph. A brief afternoon shower moved through the area shortly after 4 o’clock but play was not stopped.