By Dave Senko, PGA TOUR staff
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – Ben Martin, Chris Smith and Tyrone Van Aswegen matched 6-under-par 65s on Thursday morning and share the first-round lead at the Midwest Classic at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate. Mathew Goggin, who was tied for the lead after 15 holes, is fourth, one stroke shy of the lead.
Martin is perhaps the hottest current player on the Web.com Tour. After missing the cut at the Air Capital Classic last month, he has finished among the top four in his previous three starts. The former Clemson standout has a win at the United Leasing Championship, a T4 at the Rex Hospital Open and a T3 last week at the Utah Championship.
“My game started out pretty solid at the beginning of the year and I’ve been building off that and getting a little bit better each week,” said Martin, currently in his second full season on the Web.com Tour. He finished 54th on the 2012 money list and is currently fourth overall in that category.
“I got off to a good start today which is key here. If you shoot even-par here you’re behind the eight-ball,” added Martin.
Martin’s round included five birdies and an eagle which came on No. 13 when he chipped in from 15 feet.
A Monday qualifier for the third straight week, Smith is working to get his game back in shape and regain some status on Tour. Smith played full-time on the PGA TOUR for nearly 10 years and won the 2002 Buick Classic. He also owns five career victories on the Web-com Tour.
“I’ve been doing these Monday qualifiers on this Tour and they are brutal. There are just so many good players out there and I’m hoping to play well enough to get into the reshuffle later this year and perhaps get into the final four or five events,” said Smith. “It’s an exhausting pattern and it’s been a big change for me, but the last couple of months I’ve felt much better and more comfortable with my game. I’m taking some positive steps and I feel confident again.”
This is just the fourth start on the Web.com Tour for Smith this year and he had played in just two events last year. His PGA TOUR resume the last two years included just three starts in 2012.
“The hard thing is just getting into a routine again. When I played on Tour Monday was my day off but now with these qualifiers it’s sometimes playing courses I’ve not seen before,” Smith continued.
Smith was one of seven players to post a bogey-free round on Thursday.
Midwest Classic News and Notes
-- Ben Martin’s 6-under-par 65 gave him seven consecutive rounds in the 60s and he also has a streak of 14 rounds of par/better.
-- The most difficult hole on Thursday was No. 1 with an average score of 4.288 (+.288). No. 8 ranked second at 3.269 (+.269), while No. 13 was the easiest at 4.462 (-.538).
-- The field averaged 71.006, a bit lower than last year’s first-round average of 71.175.
-- Andy Pope has a string of 225 consecutive holes without a three-putt, the best current streak on the Web.com Tour.
-- James Nitties, the 2011 champion here, fired a 3-under-par 68 and is currently T23.
In addition to Chris Smith, Danny Lee, Steven Alker, Richard S. Johnson, Gavin Coles, Zack Miller and Jeff Klauk enjoyed bogey-free rounds.
-- Steven Alker, the winner of last week’s Utah Championship, is one of 18 players tied at 4-under-par 67.
-- Missouri Western product Brice Garnett had one of the day’s best turnarounds. After finishing 2-over-par on his front nine, Garnet posted a 6-under-par 30 on his back nine. His back nine included four birdies and an eagle which came on the par-4 16th hole. Garnett drained an L-wedge from 60 yards.
-- Just four days after shooting a final-round 59 at the Utah Championship, Will Wilcox shot a 1-under-par 70 on Thursday. He posted a 3-under-par 33 on his first nine, but made a pair of bogeys on his second nine to shoot his 70.