Joe Affrunti, James Hahn and Brendan Steele all posted 6-under 66s Thursday to share the first-round lead at the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship. The trio played bogey-free to move atop the leaderboard in the Tour’s $1 million season finale at the Daniel Island Club.
William McGirt, a South Carolina resident, shot a 5-under 67 to share fourth place with two-time winner Hunter Haas. Texan Colt Knost and Australian Scott Gardiner are tied for sixth place at 4-under 68.
2010 NATIONWIDE TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP
Nine more players are knotted at 3-under 69, including leading money winner Jamie Lovemark, who struggled with a bogey on the closing, par-5 18th hole.
In addition to sharing the lead, Affrunti, Hahn and Steele also share the distinction of being outside the 25 money winners who will earn their PGA Tour cards for 2011.
Affrunti, No. 34 on the money list, hit only 10 greens in regulation but had 13 one-putt greens and a total of 21 putts for the day.
“I don’t think there is any pressure. There’s 60 guys and it feels like you’ve got the course to yourself,” he said. “It’s guaranteed four rounds so there’s no pressure. Whether you struggle or you play well today, you don’t feel like you’ve got to keep it going or turn it around.”
Steele is No. 30 on the money list and hoping to push his way into the top 25 by the end of the week.
“I really didn’t feel that great yesterday or starting out today,” said the Californian. “Sometimes that’s where the best rounds come from because you have to pay attention to each shot and you know that if you don’t give it all your attention you’re going to get in trouble.”
Steele admits that a good score is helpful to start, but it doesn’t guarantee success.
“It’s important but there’s such a long way to go, especially without a cut,” he said. “Even if you don’t play well, today it’s not a disaster. Guys that shoot even or a couple over, they can still win the golf tournament.”
Hahn, who is No. 29 on the money list and played with Steele, is also taking the approach that this week isn’t a make-it or break-it week.
“I am really focusing on the things that I have now and the things that I’m grateful for and not worry about the things that I want,” said Hahn. “It doesn’t matter what happens at the end of the week. This is golf. If I’m destined to be there next year then I will. Being realistic, it might even be a blessing in disguise to be out here for another year, maybe two more years to really get my game straight for the PGA Tour.”
Chris Kirk, No. 2 on the money list, withdrew prior to the start of the round. Kirk injured his left thumb last week in Jacksonville and also was forced to withdraw from the inaugural Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open. He visited a doctor in Charleston on Wednesday and nn MRI exam revealed a broken bone at the base of his thumb/wrist. He is wearing a brace but will be out of action for several weeks.
“I was really looking forward to playing these last couple of tournaments being close to home and all,” said Kirk, who lives about two hours away in Sea Island, Ga. “This week was kind of a victory lap week. I’ve had a great year and I’m trying to not to lose sight of that and be thankful I’m in the position I’m in. This week is important but in the grand scheme of things, I’ll be playing in the Sony Open in Hawaii, the first tournament of the year and most of the early events, so I’m in great shape regardless.”
Kirk was not replaced in the field as only the top 60 money-winners are eligible to play in this week’s event. Kirk will receive last-place money of $3,000 but it will not count toward his official earnings for this year.
Peter Tomasulo, No. 18 on the money list, teed it up today after missing the past three weeks with a broken bone in his right foot. Tomasulo was injured during a pick-up basketball game prior to the start of the Chattanooga Classic. He was No. 13 on the money list at the time. He is playing with a soft sandal this week and intends to play all 72 holes in order to collect “official” money and try to assure himself of a return trip to the PGA Tour next year. Tomasulo shot an even-par 72 by hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens in regulation.
First-Round Notes: The first-round scoring average was 71.237 (par 72). The toughest hole on the course was the 468-yard 10th hole, which played to an average of 4.220. … Last year’s first-round scoring average was 71.362 and the winning score was 21 under par.