Nallen leads by one after tough day of scoring at Ohio State

July 12, 2007
By John Bush PGA TOUR Staff

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The inaugural Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational kicked off on Thursday with Chris Nallen firing a 4-under-par 67 to take the early lead at the $700,000 Nationwide Tour event.

Category Total Rank
Eagles 0 N/A
Birdies 6 T2
Pars 10 T76
Bogeys 2 T125
Double Bogeys 0 N/A
Other 0 N/A
Driving Accuracy 57.1% T64
Driving Distance 291.0 yds. T44
Putts per Round 27.0 T8
Putts per GIR 1.750 T24
Greens in Regulation 66.7% T18
Sand Saves 0 N/A

Nallen posted six birdies on the day -- including four on his back nine after starting the round on No. 10. A holed-bunker shot from 45 feet on the par-4 ninth hole was the perfect ending to a great day for the former two-time first team All-American at the University of Arizona.

"When we made the turn, the wind really started picking up," said Nallen, referring to the winds that gusted up to 25 mph. "But I actually played better on the back nine. It was swirling out there, so you just had to trust your yardage and back off when you needed to."

Speaking of the swirling winds, tough conditions at the par-71 Scarlet Course -- one of the premier collegiate golf courses in the country -- led to the highest opening round in relation to par this season (74.601).

"It will take a lot of patience this week," said Nallen. "It is going to get firm and fast. You've got to hit it in the right spots and stick to your game plan. Don't try stuff you don't think you can do."

Thursday wasn't the first time Nallen has seen the course. He finished in a tie for 23rd place at the 2002 NCAA Division I Championships -- one of 10 NCAA Men's Golf Championships held here. The course was originally designed by England native Alister MacKenzie -- one of the designers of the famed-Augusta National Golf Club. Scarlet has since undergone a 2006 redesign by Columbus native and this week's Honorary Chairman Jack Nicklaus.

"The course is playing good, but a lot different than it did at the NCAA (Tournament) in 2002," said Nallen, who hit eight of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens in regulation. "Obviously to host national championships here speaks volumes for the course."

After opening the 2007 campaign with a tie for seventh-place finish at the Movistar Panama Championship -- just his second top-10 finish since winning his first career Tour start at the 2004 Gila River Golf Classic -- the remainder of the season has been a struggle for the 25-year-old native of Queens, N.Y. Nallen has cracked the top 25 just once since -- a tie for 17th-place effort at the Rochester Area Charities Showdown at Somerby. He has missed (8) more cuts than he has made (7) -- and currently sits No. 87 on the official money list.

"It has been an up-and-down year for me," said Nallen. "I've been searching for things. I've been putting Band-Aids on things instead of finding something and sticking to it. I've got to trust what I'm doing instead of searching for things new each day. There is a lot of golf left this year. Hopefully things will fall into place for me."

The majority of Nallen's time recently has been spent on rectifying the Achilles heel of his game: the putter. Since joining the Tour following his win in 2004, he has ranked 105th in putting in 2005 and 90th in 2006.

"I'm hitting it good, but losing shots on the greens," said Nallen, who currently ranks 148th in putting through the first 17 events of the year. "I've been losing shots because I have no confidence with the putter. I've been working really hard lately on my short game ... trying to get confidence with my setup and make a consistent stroke with it."

Kelly Grunewald and amateur Daniel Summerhays opened with 3-under 68s and are Nallen's closest pursuers. Grunewald, a 38-year-old native of Arlington, Tex., soared up the board thanks to a hole-in-one at the par-3 13th hole -- the first of his career in a competitive round.

"I got a few inches off the ground when it went in," said Grunewald, of his 6-iron from 214 yards. "It was a lot of fun. I've had one in a pro-am before but to make one in competition is nice."

Grunewald's ace gave his putter a break for awhile -- and based on past history, it was a much-needed reprieve.

"I've gone through a few putters so far this year," Grunewald said, who also recently made the switch to a new 3-wood and different shafts in his irons. "I don't know how many, but I know that probably the under and over has got to be five since Chicago. The putters ... can always go back to the closet and time out."

Grunewald graduated to the PGA TOUR following a 14th-place finish on the 2000 Nationwide Tour money list, but he finished a disappointing 201st place during his ensuing rookie season. He has bounced around on the mini-tours the past five years and is quite pleased to have found a home again on the Nationwide Tour.

"It was hard, but I think it's probably made me tougher and stronger mentally," said Grunewald of his nomadic ways this decade. "I started the year conditional, so I was on the Monday Qualifying Tour the first three or four months of the year. Thankfully, I got in Chicago (LaSalle Bank Open) and made the cut there and got reshuffled up pretty good. It's not any fun to have to Monday qualify every week."

First-Round News & Notes: The three Pappas brothers opened in contrasting styles, including Deane (70), Brenden (72) and Craigen (81). ... The Summerhays brothers opened with a 3-under 68 (Daniel) and a 3-over 74 (Boyd). Daniel had the best opening round of the eight 2007 collegiate All-Americans participating this week, while Florida's Billy Horschel had the second-best score with a 2-over 73. ... In pursuit of his Tour-best 200th made cut, Ben Bates opened with a 2-under 69 and is in a tie for third place. ... Kelly Grunewald's ace was the 15th of the season. ... Martin Laird and Kyle Thompson are the only first-round leaders this season to go on to victory. ... There were no bogey-free rounds on Thursday and only 14 players posted sub-par rounds. ... The previous highest opening-round scoring average in relation to par this season was 75.410 at the par-72 Course at Wente Vineyards (Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship). ... Brad Elder withdrew prior to the start of the first round with a leg injury and was replaced by Emlyn Aubrey. ... David Sanchez withdrew following the round with an illness ... Garrett Willis was disqualified during the round.

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