Blixt leads Nationwide Boise Open after two-eagle 62 before storms

By news services

Series: Tour

Published: Thursday, September 15, 2011 | 10:45 p.m.

It had to happen sooner or later. The Nationwide Tour has been coming to the Treasure Valley since 1990 and always enjoyed the best of weather – until Thursday. For the first time in the Albertsons Boise Open’s 22-years, play was suspended due to weather.

Late afternoon thunderstorms crept over the Owyhee Mountains and forced play to be halted just before 5:00 p.m. with half the field still on the course. The storms caused a nearly two-hour delay. Play resumed around 7:00 p.m. before being called due to darkness about 40 minutes later.


The Albertsons Boise Open has been a stalwart on the Nationwide Tour since its inception in 1990.

While the afternoon attention was on the suddenly darkening skies and a history-making rainstorm, the morning attention was on Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, who parlayed a pair of eagles into a 9-under 62, the lowest first-round score in tournament history.

Boise State’s Troy Merritt, a PGA Tour member who is making his first start on the Nationwide Tour since 2009, is holding down second place at 7 under through 16 holes.

He, and the rest of the field, will return in the morning to resume (and complete) first-round play starting at 8:00 a.m.

Merritt has made only six cuts in 19 Tour starts this year and is without a top-25 finish. He finds himself on the outside looking in late in the year because his earnings ($133,553) put him No. 198 on the money list and will need to earn about $600,000 in the four Fall Finish events to keep his card in 2012.

Former tournament winners Kevin Stadler (2006) and Chris Tidland (2008), PGA Tour members who did not qualify for the FedExCup playoff event this week in Chicago, were paired together and turned  in matching 6-under 65s at the Hillcrest Country Club. Jason Schultz joined them in the clubhouse. Steve Wheatcroft, winner of the Melwood Prince George’s County Open, managed to finish before the horn blew and is in at 65 as well.

San Diego’s Brian Smock and Greg Owen of England head the pack at 5-under 66. Four players – Bradley Iles, Camilo Benedetti, David Hearn and Paul Claxton – are at 5 under with a few holes to go.

Blixt, a third-year pro from Florida State, wasn’t perfect off the tee or from the fairway but rolled in putt after putt for temporary possession of the clubhouse lead.

“I made everything I should make today,” he said. “It wasn’t great but I took advantage of the opportunities I had.”

One opportunity he didn’t see coming was the par-5 third hole, where he wound up on the green in two.

“I had an eagle putt that must have been 100 feet,” he said. “That was one of the longest ever. Maybe not the hardest but by far one of the longest ones. I didn’t think the ball would ever stop rolling. It just kept rolling.”

Until it found the bottom of the cup.

Blixt, No. 14 on the season money list, matched his season-best effort at the Midwest Classic in Kansas City despite hitting only 13 greens in regulation. Blixt is among the top five in putting stats this season and the former ‘Nole turned to his trusty putter once again.

“Some days are better than others, just like any other person. Today was better than most,” said Blixt, who also rolled in an 8-footer for eagle on the 293-yard 15th hole. “It wasn’t one of those days where I was forcing it. It was more of just trying to get it on the green because I was putting so well. I knew something would happen if I could just get it on the green. It just added up well today.”

First-Round Notes:

--This was the first time in the tournament’s 22-year history that play was suspended during a round. Four times previously play was suspended prior to the start of a round, each time due to frost. Those delays came in 1993 (R2), 1995 (R2 & R3) and 2005 (R3).

--First-round play will resume at 8:00 a.m. A total of 60 players (10 groups on each side) have yet to complete play. The second round, scheduled to begin to 8:00 a.m., will begin at 8:30 a.m.

--Trevor Murphy (81) withdrew after the first round.

--Camilo Benedetti registered a double eagle at the 561-yard third hole. The former Florida Gator hit driver, 4-iron (from 247 yards) into the cup for a 2 on his scorecard. Benedetti’s double eagle is the third on the Nationwide Tour this year and the second in consecutive rounds. India’s Rahil Gangjee made a hole-in-one on the par-4 15th hole during the final round of the Mylan Classic. James Hahn also had a double eagle on the par-5 18th hole in the first round of the Mexico Open.

--Benedetti’s double eagle is the fourth in Boise Open history. All of the three previous ones came at the par-5 16th hole. Justin Bolli (2004), Charley Hoffman (2005) and Dan Olson (2006) did it in consecutive years.

--Ted Tryba had a hole-in-one at the par-3 13th hole. It’s the 16th ace in tournament history but only the third one at the 216-yard 13th hole.  Jeff Quinney did it first in 2003 and Miguel Carballo did it in 2009. Tryba, playing on a sponsor exemption this week, used a 6-iron for his hole-in-one.

--Boise State grad Graham DeLaet is making his first start since June. DeLaet, in his second season on the PGA Tour, had back surgery in January and “came back a little too soon.” He made two starts on Tour (Memphis, Hartford) but has not played since. “I thought I was ready,” he said. “I guess it was the competitor in me.”

DeLaet birdied his first three holes and five of his first seven to jump onto the leaderboard. He was 5 under through 12 holes when play was halted. He was 2 over for four holes and is now 3 under with two holes to complete.

This is one of five rehab Nationwide Tour starts he has been granted, but he says he may just “pack it in” after this week and try to get ready for next year when he’ll have 25 starts on the PGA Tour in an attempt to keep his card.

--Bradley Iles had a pair of eagles on par 5s (Nos. 16, 2).

--Woody Austin ran off a string of five birdies in a row starting at No. 15. Austin also birdied No. 3 and was 6 under par at the time. He finished with a 4-under 67.