Australians David McKenzie and Tony Carolan as well as rookie Steve Marino of West Palm Beach, Fla., each opened with a 3-under 67 at a windswept Sault Ste. Marie GC.
Six others, including Ian Doig (Newmarket, ON) and Fraser Mulholland (Vancouver, BC) are just one shot off the pace. Torrential rains pounded the Soo for most of the morning Thursday, with chilly temperatures forcing players to don their jackets after basking in mid-30s temperatures on Wednesday.
Playing his first Canadian Tour event of the year, McKenzie, who had seven top-10 showings in 14 appearances in 2002, wielded a hot putter on the opening day, canning back-to-back 27-footers on his third and fourth holes to get the early jump. The birdies came on the heels of a bogey-saving 25-footer on the opening hole that, had it not found the bottom of the cup, could have steered McKenzie towards the wrong end of the leaderboard.
My putting really let me down last year, so it was nice to find the touch again, said 36-year-old. Its always good to make those long ones, it feels like I havent done that in ages. It turned out I putted well early and struck it well late, and that added up to a decent day.
McKenzie had been playing well on the Australasian Tour prior to last Christmas, but struggled after the break. He worked on his game but had final rounds of 3-over par in three consecutive events on that circuit that cost his twenty to thirty places in the final standings. Earlier this year, McKenzie began to round back into form, finishing 15th at the Nationwide Tours Clearwater Classic on his home soil.
Even last year, I had some great finishes but there were only two or three tournaments where I had a realistic shot of winning, he admitted. Guys just seemed to be running away with it every week. It seems I play bad every Sunday, and that is something I need to get my head around. Maybe I can change that this week.
Carolan is making his return to the Canadian Tour after undergoing emergency gall bladder surgery last May. During a Tour stop in Myrtle Beach, Carolan was misdiagnosed by a doctor and flew back to Australia on a marathon Charlotte-Washington-London-Singapore-Brisbane trek that took some three days from the time he packed his bags in South Carolina. Thinking the situation was not serious, Carolan was shocked to discover his gall bladder had swelled to the size of a tennis ball and the subsequent surgery left him off the links for three months. He retained Tour privileges for this season with a medical exemption.
During the Tours last visit to the Soo in 1999, current PGA Tour regular Arron Oberholser ran away with an 11-shot triumph at the Ontario Open Heritage Classic at this same course, with the margin of victory still standing as a Tour record. Carolan finished second along with Canadian Ian Leggatt, who won his first PGA Tour crown at the 2002 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open. Leggatt had seven runner-up finishes on the Canadian Tour from 1996 to 1998, including two playoff losses.
Yes, I remember that'Arron was kind of freaky that week, laughed Carolan, before offering a good-natured jab to his friend Leggatt. Had Arron not been here, I probably would have had a chance to play Leggo in a playoff, and we know how that would have ended. But it feels good to be back, and maybe this will be a new start for me.
Marino, who earned an exempt card at Winter Qualifying School this past February, was an All-ACC selection while at the University of Virginia in 2002. Playing as an amateur, Marino was T17th at the Canadian Tours Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Championship last summer.