Four share opening-round lead in Alabama
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Written by Laury Livsey @PGATOUR
DOTHAN, Alabama—An amateur and three professionals fired 6-under 66s Tuesday in the opening round of the third PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournament to take a share of the 18-hole lead. Pros Roy Cootes, Patrick Moriarty and Stephen Franken joined current Sacramento State player Riley Bell at the top of the leaderboard as they take a one-shot advantage over a trio of players—Drew Mathers, Connor Schmidt and Greg Edwards. An additional seven players are two strokes back.
Last week, Bell was in his native California for a college tournament, and following the event in Palm Desert, he traveled cross-country and made his first official round at RTJ Golf Trail at Highland Oaks an impressive one. Bell’s 66 came with only one bogey and seven birdies. His lone bogey was on his second hole, when he missed the green in regulation and was unable to get up and down for par. Bell did have a stretch of four birdies in a row, beginning at No. 4, his 13th hole of the day, while his other birdies came at Nos. 9, 14 and 16.
None of those birdies were of the memorable variety, he noted. “I didn’t make too many (long) putts but did take advantage of two of the par-5s,” he explained. Those par-5 birdies were at the seventh and the ninth. Bell closed his round with a three-foot birdie putt on No. 9.
Cootes made it to 8-under before a bogey-bogey finish dropped him back to 6-under. “I hit pretty much every shot how I wanted to on the front nine, and on the back nine too,” he said, acknowledging his less-than-desirable two-hole close that didn’t exactly dampen his enthusiasm. “This course is great. The greens are great,” he said.
Moriarty is looking to earn PGA TOUR Canada membership for the second time. He first played on the Tour in 2019, making seven appearances and getting to the weekend once. He also made a cut in his PGA TOUR Canada debut, in 2018. The highlight of his round Tuesday was an eagle at the par-5 seventh, where he rolled in an eight-foot putt. He missed taking the outright lead when he bogeyed his final hole of the day.
Franken was the last of the quartet to take his spot at the top of the leaderboard. He was also the only one of the four without a bogey on his card. Franken’s first five birdies came at Nos. 4, 7, 10, 14 and 15. He then closed with a flourish, pouring in a birdie on No. 18.
Franken has played in 12 PGA TOUR Canada tournaments, his only full season coming in 2019. A year ago, he had two PGA TOUR Canada appearances, missing the cut in both.
Did you know Roy Cootes played his rookie professional season on PGA TOUR Canada but was unable to keep his card? Cootes stayed occupied after that, looking for as many playing opportunities as he could in both 2020 and 2021 in the midst of the global pandemic. In 2021, he qualified for the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in suburban San Diego, a two-hour drive from his home. He missed the cut in what was his PGA TOUR debut.
PGA TOUR Canada along with PGA TOUR Latinoamérica are international PGA TOUR-sanctioned tours that provide access to the Korn Ferry Tour and are part of the pathway to the PGA TOUR. Since its inception in 2013, PGA TOUR Canada has held 32 Qualifying Tournaments across the U.S. and Canada. This event is the second of six 2023 PGA TOUR Canada Qualifiers scheduled in advance of the 2023 season. Each qualifier is a 72-hole, no-cut event, with playoffs, if necessary, for the medalist position and for the 10th and final position available.
One-hundred-thirty players started the tournament Tuesday. Below is a breakdown of the various PGA TOUR Canada membership statuses available this week.
|Medalist||Exempt membership for the 2023 season|
|2nd through 10th (no ties)||Exempt through the reshuffle, which will occur approximately halfway through the season|
|11th through 30th (plus ties)||Conditional membership|
“It’s way different. It’s mainly the chipping around the greens. During the practice round [Monday], I just spent a lot of time going to every spot around the greens, chipping and putting.” –Roy Cootes on the difference in grass style between what he’s seeing this week and what he plays on in California
“My immediate thought was these greens are challenging. You have to hit it onto the right tiers. That was my first impression.” –Riley Bell
“I thought I played a really solid, steady round today. I hit the driver right how I wanted to, hit a bunch of fairways and made a few longer putts.” –Connor Schmidt
“I played Korn Ferry (Tour) Q-School in the past, and I thought you had to go out and tear the place apart to qualify. I didn’t try to force things today and took things when they did come.” – Matt Hoemann
“Max Homa talked a little bit about focusing on his effort and forgetting the result. So, we’re focusing on the effort—how much effort I’m putting into each shot and whatever happens happens. That’s been our motto.” –Matt Hoemann on his strategy this week