Hietala the Early Leader in Panama


Nationwide TourPANAMA CITY, Panama -- Ryan Hietala fired a 6-under-par 64 on Thursday to take the first-round lead of the BellSouth Panama Championship, the season-opening event on the 2005 Nationwide Tour schedule.
Vance Veazey is alone in second place at 5-under-par 65. Jerry Smith is in third at minus-4.
Hietala opened on the second nine at Panama Golf Club and did not get off to a great start. He bogeyed the 11th hole, but rebounded with a birdie at No. 12. Hietala dropped another shot at the par-3 13th, but that was his last miscue of the round.
He birdied the final two holes on his front side to make the turn at 1-under 34. Hietala reached 2 under par with a birdie at the fourth, then made it two in a row with a 35-footer at the fifth.
Hietala, who finished 101st on the 2004 Nationwide Tour money list, collected back-to-back, 20-foot birdie putts at seven and eight, then closed his round with a birdie at the ninth to establish a new course record.
'Today was a lot of fun,' said Hietala, a 31-year-old from the University of Texas-El Paso. 'It has been a long time since I've gotten off to a good start like this. It seems like I'm always having to come from behind so this is a nice change of pace.
'My putter was really on fire today. I didn't really hit it close today but I was seeing the line on all of my putts. Needless to say I'm looking forward to the rest of the week, and the rest of the season for that matter.'
Veazey also began on the back nine and tallied three birdies in his first six holes. He bogeyed No. 16, then holed a clutch 30-footer for par at the second hole.
Veazey collected back-to-back birdies at four and five, but bogeyed the seventh. He birdied the eighth, then drained a 30-foot birdie putt at nine to get within one of the lead.
'Making a 30-footer for birdie on the last hole was a great way to cap off a tremendous day,' said Veazey. 'But the one I made for par on the second hole really saved my round. That could have easily been a six on the scorecard right there.'
Steven Alker, Cliff Kresge, Camilo Villegas and Jason Gore share fourth place at 3-under-par 67.
Ricky Barnes, the 2002 U.S. Amateur champion who is playing this week on a sponsor's exemption, shot a 2-under 68 and is tied for eighth place with Jon Mills, Willie Wood, David Sutherland and Matt Weibring.
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - BellSouth Panama Championship
  • Full Coverage - BellSouth Panama Championship