MORELIA, Mexico -- Tom Johnson barely beat the darkness Thursday and grabbed the clubhouse lead in the first round of the $625,000 Mexico Open presented by Corona, the second stop on the 2008 Nationwide Tour schedule.
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Johnson finished his round shortly before play was halted at 6:42 p.m. due to darkness. A total of 18 players in the field of 131 did not complete their initial round. Those players will return to the Tres Marias Golf Club and resume round one at 7:30 Friday morning. Round two tee times will begin at 7:20 a.m. as scheduled.
Johnson's 6-under-par 65 is two better than B. J. Staten and Michael Sim.
Jason Caron and Benjamin Alvarado are both at 4 nder with one hole to play. Alvarado's 17-hole scorecard features nine birdies, five bogeys, one eagle, one double bogey and only one par. Jarrod Lyle, Greg Chalmers, John Kimbell, Michael Putnam and Casey Wittenberg are tied for sixth place with 3-under 68s.
"Getting around the back nine in 3 under was a bonus for me," said Johnson, who was a rookie on the PGA TOUR in 2007. "That's the more difficult side and I was hoping to make some pars and then do some scoring on the front nine."
Johnson admits he'll need to guard against repeating a mistake at last week's season-opening Panama Movistar Championship. "I was in the top 10 after Thursday and then missed the cut," said Johnson of his 69-78 effort. "I might have started thinking ahead. I was thinking about winning and stuff like that. I know how quickly things can change."
Players struggled early in the opening round at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, which features several big elevation changes amid the canyons outside Morelia.
"So many times we're used to seeing 7, 8 or 9 under par leading a Nationwide Tour event," said Staten, one of the early finishers. "We have to remember that 2 to 4 under is a really good score on this golf course. There are holes out here you can attack but there are holes you can make serious numbers on."
Staten was close to a seriously good number at the 7,568-yard course, save for a couple errant tee shots that were no more than one to three feet in the left rough. Four bogeys on his scorecard all came when he missed the fairway.
"It could have been a great round," said the Dallas, Tex., resident who plays left-handed and putts right-handed. "The bogeys were stupid but I'll take eight birdies on this, or any other golf course, any day."
None of Staten's eight birdies came from outside of eight feet and the sum total of his birdie putts was just shy of 40 feet.
The Australian Lyle bettered Staten's total on one hole. The 26-year old canned one birdie putt from 50 feet. He also dropped another from 35 feet, chipped in for a par to begin his round and holed a 9-iron from 140 yards for an eagle on his last hole to finish out his 68.
"It's just the kind of golf course where you can hit a good shot and get yourself into all kinds of trouble around the greens," he said. "You've got to hit it in the right spots on these greens because there are several tiers and bumps. The greens are really good and fast. I think if they made them a little bit faster they'd almost be unplayable with some of the spots they can put the flags."
Thursday's opening round had all the makings for some higher-than-normal scores. Vertical rises and drops in the terrain coupled with 20-25mph winds on a course that stands 6,600 feet above sea level all combined to make for difficult scoring conditions at the par-71 layout (current avg. 73.461).
"It's very hard out here, especially to get the right yardages," said Lyle, who tied for sixth last week. "I still work in meters, so first I've got to convert to yards, and then I have to convert the altitude and then factor in the ups-and-downs of the hills. For every shot I hit, I've got four yardages. I've just got to figure out which one I want to play to."
Four days at the Tres Marias club may involve a bit of conditioning as well.
"I think it could play a bigger role than we think," said Staten. "This is the second week of back-to-back tough golf courses. Plus the fact that a lot of us haven't competed in a few months. It might come down to it (conditioning). I feel bad for the caddies, though. I know the players will be tired come Sunday but the caddies are going to be exhausted."
First-Round News & Notes: Esteban Toledo, a native of Mexicali and winner of the 2000 Mexico Open, did not make a par on his final 9 holes Thursday. Toledo had four birdies, four bogeys and an eagle-3 for a 2-under 34. His front nine had one birdie, one bogey and seven pars. He shot 69. ... Andrew Bonhomme withdrew and was replaced by Efran Serna, an alternate from the Monday qualifier. Henrik Bjornstad withdrew before play because of an injured neck and was not replaced in the field. A total of 131 players teed it up in round one.