By Joe Chemycz, Web.com Tour staff
MIDLAND, Texas – Veterans Alex Cejka, Todd Hamilton and Daniel Chopra each posted a 6-under 66 Thursday and share the first-round lead at the WNB Golf Classic in Midland, Texas.
Cejka had a pair of bogeys on his card while both Hamilton and Chopra were bogey-free at Midland CC.
Brian Duncan, Joe Durant, Jeff Klauk, Joseph Bramlett and Josh Broadaway share fourth place with 6-under 67s. Bramlett and Broadaway were the only ones of the top eight to play in the afternoon.
Eight players are tied for ninth at 4-under 68, including 2011 champion Danny Lee.
“We got a little bit lucky today,” said Cejka, referring to the weather. “It wasn’t as windy today as the last couple of days. It was a little chilly this morning but for the first six or seven holes, no wind.”
Temperatures are slowly on the rise in the Permian Basin after dipping below freezing overnight Tuesday. The forecast is for 80 degrees on Friday and plenty of wind, which will make the par-72 even trickier.
“It was still cold but nowhere near as cold as it was yesterday,” said Chopra, who teed off when it was about 38 degrees. “The biggest factor was that the ball was still flying far enough. Usually the cold weather makes the ball go a little shorter.”
Shorter is fine but Chopra, who hails from Sweden and knows cold, had trouble hitting it straight. The 39-year old hit exactly one of 14 fairways, although several of the misses were just barely off the short grass.
“I’m not really worried about too many things,” said Chopra, who has finished T13, T15 and T16 in three starts this year. “As poorly as I drove it, I still shot 66. I imagine that will improve. I don’t know, it was just one of those days.”
Cejka was the first to post his 66 and said the strategy this week is simple.
“Keep it straight and you putt well,” he said. “It’s a perfect combination.”
Still, the 42-year-old from Munich is taking nothing for granted.
“I putted well. I could have made maybe two or three more,” he said. “You make, you miss. You get too greedy, you get nothing – a very good saying my grandfather used to say.”
Hamilton, who joined the leaders by making birdies on three of the four par-5s, had nothing but praise for the greens at Midland CC.
“The greens are fantastic,” said the 2004 British Open champion. “You feel like you can make putts from anywhere as long as you’re not putting down or across a slope.”
First-Round Notes & Quotes:
-- Thursday weather: Sunny skies. Wind SSW 10-20 mph. High of 72. Friday’s forecast is for a high of 80 with a bit more wind.
-- This week’s purse is $600,000 with $108,000 going to the champion.
-- Ryan Spears withdrew prior to the start of the round and was replaced in the field by Brian Prouty (73).
-- Benjamin Alvarado, winner of last week’s Brasil Classic presented by HSBC in Sao Paulo, withdrew from the tournament earlier in the week. Alvarado, who played college golf at Arizona State, still resides in his hometown of Santiago, Chile. His initial Tour win was worth $121,500 and moved him to No. 2 on the 2013 money list.
-- 22 of the top-25 players on the money list are competing this week. The only one’s missing are No. 2 Benjamin Alvarado, No. 10 Scott Brown and No. 13 Jordan Spieth. Brown won the PGA TOUR’s Puerto Rico Open last month and Spieth tied for second in that same event.
-- Wes Roach played the first 14 holes without a bogey and wound up shooting a 1-over 73. Roach played the final 37 holes of last week’s Brasil Classic presented by HSBC without a bogey and wound up solo fifth.
-- South Carolina rookie Brian Duncan posted a 5-under 67 Thursday, his best round of the year. To date Duncan has made only one cut in five starts this season, putting him 1-for-14 over the past couple of years. Duncan, a 2006 Clemson graduate, made yet another change with his putter this week.
This is the fifth different putter in six starts for the 29-year old, who admitted the latest change, which includes an extra-large grip is a combination of frustration ands desperation.
“I’m desperate to make a cut out here,” he said. “I know I’m good enough to play out here but I haven’t done it. It’s frustrating but it’s more discouraging.”
Duncan opened with a 69-68 at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open last month but weekend scores of 72-77 dropped him to T66.
“Momentum. If I can make a couple putts I can get some momentum going because my confidence builds and you just keep running with it,” he said. “I left a few out there but it’s nice to see a few putts go in.”
-- Danny Lee, the 2011 champion and T2 last year, fired a 4-under 68 and is T9. Lee hit 7 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens. He birdied two of his final three holes.
-- 2008 winner Marc Leishman fired a 6-under 66 in the first round of The Masters and is one of the co-leaders after the initial 18 at Augusta National GC.
-- Joseph Bramlett played the quartet of par-5s with three birdies and an eagle.
-- Joe Durant, even through 12 holes, played his last six holes in 5-under par to shoot 67.
-- Kevin Kisner, winner of the Chile Classic, started his day on the back nine and had a string of nine consecutive holes without a par. Kinser bogeyed the 18th hole and made the turn to the front where he had two birdies, an eagle and five bogeys before making a par at No. 9. He shot a 2-over 74.
-- Course statistics for the week: