Gillespie and Kirk lead Jerry Hinds, Ken Duke, Jarrod Warner and 2002 U.S. Amateur runner-up Robert Hamilton by one stroke. Seven others, including Canadians Jim Rutledge, Rob McMillan, Jamie Welder and Zoltan Veress, are at 4-under 67.
Playing just a few miles northwest of his hometown, Gillespie tamed the 6722-yard, par-71 Mandarin Golf and Country Club with seven birdies and just one bogey. Thursday marked the first time Gillespie had a look at the entire course. On Tuesday, lightning suspended play during the pro-am, while Gillespie played just nine holes during a practice round Wednesday.
'This is the first time this week Ive had a chance to play all 18, and it is such great shape,' said the 24-year-old. 'You just have to focus on every shot or you can get into trouble in a hurry. But I think the results today are what Ive been working on for the last six months. Everything is coming along quite well.'
Gillespie was teamed with 1998 U.S. Amateur champion and current Tour money leader Hank Kuehne, as well as defending Greater Vancouver Classic champion Iain Steel on Thursday. It has been a breakthrough year for Gillespie, who won his initial professional event in May at the Myrtle Beach Barefoot Championship. There is an outside chance that Gillespie, with a win here, could catch Jeff Quinney for second spot on the money list, earning an exemption into the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying.
'Ive known for a long time that I can play this game, I just had to work on it. Ill go out this week and try to wrap up the season on a positive note. The game is so mental at this level, and you have to keep your emotions in check. Ive grown up a lot in the past year, both with my game and as a person, and that has helped,' he said.
Kirk, who finished third at the Michelin Ixtapa Classic earlier this year, is in 25th spot on the Order of Merit money list heading into this week and is also looking for a strong finish. The four-time All-American at UNLV will attend both the PGA and European Tour Qualifying Schools later this fall.
'I think this course is a great challenge, and its a superb track for us to finish the year on,' said Kirk, who had a par-birdie-birdie start Thursday. 'If you are planning to go to Q-school, this is the time of year you want to watch your schedule and manage your time well. You dont want to be going into a slump going into the fall.'
The top three from the Canadian Tours monwey list, plus the next two Canadians, after this week will also be exempted into the Air Canada Championship and Bell Canadian Open.