MITCHELLVILLE, Md. -- Jay Williamson, Jon Mills and 2004 Nationwide Tour Player of the Year Jimmy Walker hold a one-stroke lead over a group of eight players on a log-jammed leaderboard at the inaugural $600,000 Melwood Prince George's County Open as the Nationwide Tour visits the Washington, D.C., area for the first time.
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Williamson, winner of this year's Fort Smith Classic presented by Stephens Inc., turned in a bogey-free 6-under-par 66 hitting 13 of 14 fairways. He has earned more than $113,000 by making six of eight cuts this season and sits at No. 9 on the Money List. Williamson, a hockey and baseball player at Trinity College, played on the PGA TOUR in 1995-1996 and then for a longer stretch from 1999-2006.
"I'm trying to suck up my pride and hang in there," Williamson said. "(The Nationwide Tour) is a great opportunity for me to get back to, not where I necessarily feel I belong, but where I want to be. It's no different than the guys playing for the Washington Nationals getting sent down to Triple-A. You can react two ways; you can give up or you can work hard and play golf."
Walker's round started with a double bogey, but he fought back into the lead with six birdies and an eagle on the par 5 11th hole. Walker won the BellSouth Panama Championship and the Chitimacha Louisiana Open in 2004 and finished the year No. 1 on the money list. A neck injury limited him to nine tournaments on the PGA TOUR in 2005.
Leading the group of eight players at 5 under is 2007 leading money-winner Nick Flanagan. Winner of last week's BMW Charity Pro-Am at the Cliffs and the Henrico County Open three weeks ago, Flanagan needs one more victory to earn an instant promotion to the PGA TOUR.
He held his own on Thursday, continuing his solid play with an opening-round 67. Starting the day on the 10th hole, he shot even par on his opening nine holes, but finished the round with birdies on five of the final seven for a backside 31.
Six-time PGA TOUR winner Steve Pate is also one shot off the lead. Pate, who turned pro in 1983 and recorded his last victory in 1998 at the CVS Charity Classic, credited playing with a belly putter for the first time in his career for that good start.
"If I missed one more putt with a short putter, my head was going to explode," Pate said one day before celebrating his 46th birthday. "I took the long putter out last week, practiced with it a little and putted pretty well today."
The Country Club at Woodmore has received positive reviews from a majority of the Nationwide Tour players. Hosting the first PGA TOUR sanctioned event in Prince George's County since 1948, the course reminds players of older-style golf courses with tree-lined fairways and noticeable rough that stress shot-making.
"I love the golf course," Pate added. "It's the first time we've played here. It has a great variety of holes. There aren't very many straight holes, so you better play a practice round here because you have to use different clubs on different lines off the tee to try to get around. It reminds me of course like Westchester."
First-Round News & Notes: Jay Williamson, Jon Mills, Marc Turnesa, Jason Caron, Matt Weibring, Brock Mackenzie and Brian Smock shot bogey-free rounds. ... A group of 24 players are within two strokes of the lead. ... Neal Lancaster withdrew during his round due to injury... The scoring average during the first round was 71.916. The toughest hole was the par-4 16th hole with a 4.316 average, yielding just seven birdies on the day. ... Jeff Klauk sits at 4-under par. His caddie, Jeff Chandler played for four seasons in the NFL as a kicker, including a season with the Washington Redskins in 2004.
THEY SAID IT: Steve Pate on the nickname, "Volcano," that he received early in his PGA TOUR career for his tendency to blow up out on the course: "I'm doing better with my temper and it's another reason I like the long putter; it's much harder to throw."
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