Hakula fires 64 to lead by one in Ecuador’s Kia Open
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Written by Greg Villalobos @PGATOURLA
QUITO, Ecuador—Finland’s Toni Hakula is off to his best career PGA TOUR Latinoamérica start at the Kia Open. Firing an 8-under 64, five shots better than his previous-low round at the Quito Tennis & Golf Club, the 31-year-old holds the outright lead by one shot over Chile’s Gustavo Silva and the Argentine duo of Jaime López Rivarola and Matías Simaski.
Silva, whose round of 65 featured a hole-in-one on No. 13 early in the day, and López Rivarola went bogey-free, as well. Birdieing five of his last seven holes Thursday, Simaski joined them with the low round of the afternoon.
Trailing the leader by two with rounds of 66, Rafa Becker of Brazil joined Roland Massimino and Dalan Refioglu of the United States in a tie for fifth. The low-scoring opening round had 26 players carding sub-70 rounds and 59 finishing the day at 1-under 71 or better.
“I don’t think I have ever had a real high finish here, but I like the place. I feel like it suits my game, and I’m always excited to come here,” said Hakula, whose best finish in four previous starts is a tie for 33rd in his debut, in 2016. “I’m glad to get out of the gates really well today and get a good round in. Hopefully, (I can) keep that going for the rest of the week.”
Starting on No. 10 early in the day, the former University of Texas Longhorn got his round going with back-to-back birdies on 11 and 12. He made his next birdie on 18 and then chipped in for eagle on No. 3 before adding birdies on Nos. 4, 7 and 8.
“It was a great round. I played really well from the start. I had about a four- to five-footer for par on the last (hole), and I think that was my longest par putt, so I played really steady; never really gave bogey a chance. I felt great all day, and everything seemed to work pretty well,” added Hakula, who won the 2018 Bupa Match Play Championship for his lone PGA TOUR Latinoamérica title in 59 career starts.
Opening with a 5-under 31 in the first group off No. 1 at 6:30 a.m., Silva went on to make the shot of the day at the par-3 13th.
“I hit an 8-iron. I think I had 164 yards to the pin, and I hit it extremely well. I’m so happy it went in,” said the 29-year-old from Rancagua, Chile. He didn’t realize his ball went in until the group ahead started waving in celebration. Caught on camera, the shot went right at the pin, going in after a quick bounce.
The solid start was a bit unexpected by Silva, who had been struggling last week in Peru and during his practice rounds here. “I was talking to my coach last night, and I told him that I was feeling extremely uncomfortable with my swing, with my shots going way off target. [Wednesday], during practice, I hit it all over the place, but today it was the complete opposite. This is a huge confidence booster for the days ahead,” said the man who parred the remaining five holes after making his first ace in competition and his fourth overall.
Coming into the week as the only player who has made all seven cuts this PGA TOUR Latinoamérica season, López Rivarola had seven birdies. “It went pretty well, very steady and in great weather conditions. I was able to execute shots just as I had planned during the practice rounds. This is my fourth time playing here at Quito Tennis & Golf. I felt quite free out there,” said the 28-year-old who came close to holing out for eagle at the par-4 No. 7, hitting a magnificent 9-iron from 187 yards.
Simaski keeps playing well every time he comes to Ecuador, the site of his first win in a professional event, the 2015 Dev Series Final played at Arrayanes Country Club, right outside of Quito. The win he claimed as an amateur propelled him to 2016 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica membership.
At 2-under through 11, Simaski finished strong, going birdie-birdie-par-birdie-birdie-birdie off No. 3, his 12th hole of the day. No one went as low as he did in the afternoon wave.
“Every time I come here I have a great time. It’s a country that I like a lot and people are really nice,” commented the 32-year-old from Cordoba, Argentina. “I think the altitude is a very important factor, and I believe my regularity with the ball’s flight is what makes me play steady golf. It’s a love affair I have with Ecuador. Playing well here gives me good vibes.”
2022-23 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Player Benefits
|2022-23 Final Totalplay Cup Position||Reward|
|No. 1||Will receive exempt status on the 2024 Korn Ferry Tour|
|Nos. 2-5||Will receive conditional status on the 2024 Korn Ferry|
|Nos. 1-5||Exempt into Final Stage of the 2023 PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament|
|Nos. 6-25||Exempt into the second stage of the 2023 PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament|
|Nos. 1-60||Status on the 2024 PGA TOUR Americas Latin America Swing|
Coming off a runner-up finish at the Diners Club Peru Open to claim the Totalplay Cup lead, Conner Godsey struggled to post a 1-over 73 Thursday, his highest score on Tour since the final round of the Neuquén Argentina Classic last December. Recording five bogeys and four birdies, the 31-year-old Alabama native is currently tied for 81st.
The following are the scores and positions for the nine players inside the Totalplay
Cup top-10 competing here this week:
|Totalplay Cup Pos.||Player||Score||Kia Open|
|1||Conner Godsey (U.S.)||73 (+1)||T81|
|3||Charlie Hillier (New Zealand)||74 (+2)||T94|
|4||Chandler Blanchet (U.S.)||71 (-1)||T45|
|5||Linus Lilliedahl (Sweden)||69 (-3)||T15|
|6||Matt Ryan (U.S.)||75 (+3)||T113|
|7||Marcos Montenegro (Argentina)||72 (par)||T60|
|8||Jake McCrory (U.S.)||73 (+1)||T81|
|9||Leandro Marelli (Argentina)||69 (-3)||T15|
|10||Davis Shore (U.S.)||67 (-5)||8|
Aside from Conner Godsey, who won this tournament in 2021, the only other past champion in this week’s field is Ricardo Celia of Colombia, who claimed the title in 2015. Celia carded a 72 and is currently tied for 60th.
Seeking to make the cut at this event for the second consecutive year, Juan Moncayo is the best of eight Ecuadorian players competing this week. The 27-year-old carded a 3-under 69 and is currently tied for 15th. “It was a good start. My ball striking was great. I kept the ball in the fairway, never getting into trouble,” said Moncayo, who tied for 34th last year when he opened with a 73.
Here is the complete list of Ecuador natives playing this week and how they performed.
|T15||Juan Moncayo||69 (-3)|
|T27||Ben Cohn||70 (-2)|
|T81||Andrés Martínez||73 (+1)|
|T132||a-Manuel Corral||77 (+5)|
|T132||a-Francisco Ponce||77 (+5)|
|T139||Rafael Miranda||79 (+7)|
|142||a-Emilio Torres||80 (+8)|
|143||a-José Khamis||86 (+14)|
First-Round Weather: Partially cloudy. High of 67. Wind E at 6-20 mph.