With scoring conditions almost ideal at Pine Ridge GC, North opened with an 8-under 63, one shot off the course record, to lead Brett Bingham by one stroke. Americans Kyle Kovacs and Chris Wisler are at 6-under 65, while Michael Harris, Bryn Parry and Craig Taylor are three shots back.
On a day when the Pine Ridge record appeared ready to fall, North birdied No. 17 from 15 feet to get to 8-under and within one shot of the benchmark set by Wes Martin and later equalled by Mark Slawter during the final round of the 2001 Classic. But his tee shot on the final hole went right and found its way behind a tree, leaving North no choice but to loft it out and let the ball roll up to the edge of the green. He then chipped to within two feet before jarring the par putt.
Once I made that birdie on 17, I thought how great it would be to get my name added to the course record, admitted the 30-year-old, who spent two years teaching at Pine Ridge. Playing at home, I was a little nervous but I was able to keep my composure. Im not sure how Ill react to the crowds if they follow me (Friday), so well see. Ive tried to stay under the radar all week, but I guess I have thrown myself right into the bees nest.
With fellow Winnipeggers Rob McMillan, Todd Fanning and Canadian Golf Hall of Famer Dan Halldorson also in the starting field, North figured one of those three would be likeliest to be leading in his hometown. North didnt earn enough to keep his card following the 2001 season and didnt regain playing privileges until Fall Qualifying School last September. His best showing in 2003 is a T53rd at the Northern Ontario Open two weeks ago, but North figures there is no better place than Winnipeg to collect his biggest cheque of the year.
I played very well today -- my drives, my wedges, my putts were all working for me -- but there is still a long way to go. Today was almost a perfect day, but the teeth on this course seem to come out when the greens start rolling hard and fast. That may still be to come.
When a reporter asked him what would constitute a successful tournament this week, North was to the point.
I would deem it a success if I am standing over there holding a trophy Sunday, he said, motioning towards the 18th green.
Bingham has battled injuries for the past two seasons, causing him to miss several events. After winning Most Improved Canadian honors in 2000, it has been a couple of frustrating campaigns for the 28-year-old.
Its been brutal -- just when you think you are ready to get back into it, something else brings you down, said Bingham, who has been working on the mental approach to the game with fellow tour player and 1999 MTS Classic champion Neale Smith. Its been hard to get into any kind of rhythm, but in the past month and a half, Ive felt something good was going to happen. It looks like today it did.
During a 50-minute storm delay Thursday, Bingham went to the cozy confines of his Jeep and cranked up some heavy metal music waiting for play to resume. When the horn sounded to continue the opening round, he calmly rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt.
Kovacs almost added his name to a short-yet-distinguished list Thursday. Playing his final hole of the day, the 235-yard, par-3 ninth, the tour sophomore hit a 1-iron than rattled off the pin and rolled a foot from the cup. Since the course was opened way back in 1912, there have only been ten holes-in-one on No. 9, which features an uphill tee shot to a domed green. The first ace was recorded in 1948 and there wasnt another until 1990.
I hit that ball perfectly, and I was lucky enough to hit the pin, said Kovacs, who reeled off a string of four straight birdies midway through his round. Today I was fortunate to make a lot of long putts, and that last one was a gift. After hitting those four birdies in a row, I thought about going after (Jason) Bohns record (of eight straight), but that came to a screeching halt in a hurry.
Fan favorite McMillan carded a 68, while Halldorson came in with a 2-under 69. Playing as an amateur in 1996, McMillan thrilled Winnipeg when he became the last amateur to capture a Tour event, winning the Xerox Manitoba Open.
Its fun to be back here with all the support, said McMillan, who had a 16th place finish at last weeks Nationwide Tour CPGA Championship in suburban Toronto. Its really good to see Dean at the top of the leaderboard. Hes a great guy with a lot of talent, and that talent is starting to show. Ill come out tomorrow and focus on what I need to do. That is all I can control.