By Joe Chemycz, Web.com Tour staff
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA – Former U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee fired a 7-under-par 64 Thursday and grabbed a one-stroke lead in the Colombia Championship, the second stop on the Web.com Tour’s 2013 schedule.
Lee's 64 equaled the course record at the Country Club de Bogota and put him just in front of afternoon finishers Sam Saunders and Shane Bertsch.
Lefty Edward Loar, Steve Wheatcroft, Ron Whittaker and Brazil’s Alexander Rocha all posted 5-under 66s and are tied for fourth place.
Lee took the clubhouse lead thanks to seven birdies over the final 11 holes. He reeled off four in a row around the turn and then finished things off with three in a row to give him the best first-round score in the tournament’s four-year history.
Lee’s effort was quite a turnaround from last week in Panama, where he shot 74-71 and missed the cut. He attributed the difference to a change in putters he made on Monday.
“I was using more of a blade putter and this one is more face-balanced and it’s really easy to aim,” he said. “I’m always having trouble aiming when I start to putt bad. This new one I don’t even have to try to aim it right because it’s so easy.”
Lee, like many in the field, is keeping the driver in the bag around the tree-lined course, which measures 7,237 yards but plays much shorter because Bogota sits some 8,600 feet above sea level.
“I’m hitting my 3-iron like 270 yards so I didn’t really need my driver or my woods,” said Lee. “The 3-iron is one of my favorite clubs and that helps me hit these narrow fairways.”
Saunders opened and closed his first nine holes with eagles and was 8-under after consecutive birdies early on his back nine. The former Clemson star tried to keep his foot on the gas down the stretch.
“Today I did a really good job of not getting ahead of myself. I really tried to keep pressing,” he said. “At 8-under, I knew I had a par-5 left and honestly I was trying to get to 10 or 11. I was a little frustrated on the last couple holes.”
His birdie putt on No. 16 hung on the lip and then his tee shot on the par-5, 8th found the trees and forced him to pitch back into the fairway. Still, all that stood between him and the lead was the 447-yard 9th hole.
Saunders hit 3-iron off the tee and his 9-iron to the green came up short of the green, leaving him with an uphill shot to the pin about 45 feet away.
“I made a bad play there trying to chip that ball. It’s really tight there,” he said. “I should have putted it."
Instead, he clipped his 60-degree wedge and it scooted to the back of the green, some 60 feet away.
“I just skulled it. It was pretty ugly,” he said afterward. “It’s easy to do off that stuff. You don’t want to chunk it. The last thing you want to do is chunk it and leave it right back down at your feet. I paid the price but it’s all right. It’s hard to be upset with a 65.”
First-Round Notes & Quotes:
-- Thursday weather: mostly cloudy with isolated light rain showers. Wind SE 3-8 mph. High of 66.
-- Matt Hendrix withdrew prior to the start of the round and was replaced in the field by Australia's Steve Allan (76).
-- Saunders became only the third player in tournament history to register two eagles in a round. His eagles both came on par-5s, No. 10 and No. 18. He hit a 3-iron to about 6 feet at No. 10 (585 yards) and then a 7-iron to 10 feet at No. 18 (570 yards).
"I just hit good shots. They were really well-played holes. It seemed easy but I know it’s difficult."
Saunders' back nine score of 6-under 30 set a tournament record.
-- Chris Riley matched the tournament front nine record with a 5-under 30. Riley countered with a 40 on the back nine for a 1-under 70.
-- Ron Whittaker also stumbled on his final hole of the day, three-putting from 35 feet for his only bogey of the day.
"It was on the fringe and I just hit it too hard. I thought it was going to be slower going up the hill. I hit it right in the sweet spot."
-- During his practice round on Wednesday, Steve Wheatcroft practiced playing the dogleg-right, par-5, 18th hole by hitting tee shots down the 17th fairway, which runs parallel to the 570-yard finishing hole.
"It shortens it by 80 yards,” he said. “We looked at all the numbers and it makes sense. I hit probably 15 balls from over there and I had everything from 6-iron to pitching wedge in. If you can turn a par-5 like that into a driver and pitching wedge or a 9-iron, it's kind of hard not to do it."
Wheatcroft didn’t do it Thursday. The tee markers had been moved forward and made the tee shot a bit tougher.
"The tee shot is really tough. You have to hit a low hook through a small, little window and I just didn’t feel comfortable with that one today. I wasn’t driving the ball as well as I wanted with the driver."
Wheatcroft played the hole conservatively, hitting a 3-iron off the tee and then laying up short of the water that guards the green with a 6-iron. His third shot was a wedge and left him a birdie putt, which he missed.
-- Argentina’s Ariel Canete, the leading money-winner on the PGA TOUR’s Latino America Tour, fired a 2-under 69 and is T27 after the first day. Canete, 38, was happy with his day.
“It was pretty good. Not too good and not too bad. This course is not easy.”
Canete said he previously played this course, but didn’t remember much about it.
“It was many years ago. More than 10,” he said. “I don’t remember it too well but the shaping is much better now. It’s not easy to put the ball in the fairway because they are small and they have many trees.”
-- Colombia native Manuel Villegas of Medellin is in a big group of players tied at 3-under 69.
“I’m very happy with the way I played today,” said Villegas, younger brother of PGA TOUR star Camilo. “On this course you have to very careful with your club selection. You have to use a lot of irons and put the ball in play because if you miss your tee shot, then the second shot will be very difficult.
-- Defending champion Skip Kendall shot a 2-over 73 and is T111.
-- The Web.com Tour will head to further south next week for the second Chile Classic at the Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago Mar. 4-10. Last year, newcomer Paul Haley II cruised to a three-stroke win over Joseph Bramlett to earn the title in only his third career start. Haley, an All-American at Georgia Tech, posted back-to-back, 8-under 64s in the second and third round and opened up a six-shot lead after 54 holes. He was never seriously challenged on the final day but Bramlett, who started the day 10 back, made up ground quickly and carded a 64 to grab solo second. Next week’s winner will earn $117,000 from the $650,000 purse.