Conrad carded a 7-under-par 65 at the Fort William Country Club, good enough for a one-stroke lead over Canadian Andrew Smeeth (Abbotsford, B.C.) and Bryan Wright (Raeford, N.C.). Five others, including defending McDonalds Order of Merit champion Steven Alker (New Zealand) are two shots back.
After shooting even-par over his first three holes, the 27-year-old Conrad reeled off four consecutive birdies before adding two more, along with an eagle, on the back nine. Conrad reached the 525-yard, par-5 12th hole in two before draining a long 40-foot putt for the eagle.
Its starting to come around for me right now, the little things are starting to work for me, said Conrad, who wound up 11th at last weeks MTS Classic in Winnipeg. Ive been hitting the ball very well and today I made some putts that I couldnt make in Winnipeg.
The 6670-yard, par-72 Fort William layout will have players relying on their short game all weekend, something Conrad added could mean some record scores being posted. Sixty-six players shot 1-under or better Thursday.
This course is short enough, if you can get your wedges and 9-irons going, you have a chance at birdie putts all day. Low numbers are there for the taking.
Smeeth, 28, echoed Conrads thoughts after winding up at 6-under on the day.
I think, weather permitting, you are going to see some low scores out there, he said. I think this course is set for my game, and I was a little aggressive out there early. Ill stick to the game plan, Ill be out there again tomorrow trying to do the same thing.
The starting field of 156 golfers will be reduced to the low 60 plus ties after play Friday. Those surviving the cut will go after the $24,000 top prize on the weekend.