Strong front-nine play and a good bounce from Mother Nature were key components as Brandt Garon and Peyton McCulloch moved into the first-day lead at the Baton Rouge Open.
Playing in the morning at Santa Maria golf course, Garon missed a one-hour afternoon weather delay. He got his round going with four consecutive front-nine birdies on the way to a 4-under par 68.
Play was stopped midway through the afternoon round when dark skies brought intermittent lightning strikes. The weather settled down, and with no rain to hamper golfers, play resumed after a one-hour delay.
McCulloch got the best of the late play carding six brides and two bogeys. He was 3-under at the turn when play was interrupted, and came back to play the back nine at 1-under.
McCulloch began his round consecutive birdies on the first three holes. Like Garon, he capped his day with a birdie at the par-5 18th.
Hunter Smith, a junior golfer for the University of New Orleans, was in second after a bogey-free round of 69.
Blaine Patin, who won the BREC Players Championship two years ago, was third after a round of 70. Jeff Lorio and two-time former Baton Rouge Open champion Gayle Sanchez were tied for third after each shot 71.
Raymond Anselmo made five birdies and five bogeys, and was tied for sixth with Jordan Calandro after an even par round of 72.
The top 16 golfers will be paired off into a championship flight featuring four groups of four. The leaders will tee off beginning at 8:20 a.m.
“I tried to minimize mistakes toward the end,” Garon said of his back-nine play that featured one bogey and one birdie. “I wanted to make sure I held in there, and didn’t give up any more strokes.”
Smith, a former Catholic High golfer, came into the tournament having had few chances to practice. It made his steady first-round play a welcome sight.
“I went in with low expectations to just see how it goes,” Smith said. “Playing bogey free was what I was happiest about, to get through the round with no mistakes for as little practice as I’d had lately.”
Patin had birdies at 4, 7, 8 and 14, but a poor tee shot at the par-3 5th led to double bogey.
“I hit it pretty good,” Patin said. “I hit a lot of greens and putted OK. I didn’t make a ton of putts, but I only had the one bad swing on five. I hit an awful shot, but outside of that I played pretty well.”
Garon was even par through five holes, but a long birdie putt at the par-4 6th jump started his round. He followed with birdies at 7, 8 and 9 to make the turn at 4-under.
A three-putt bogey at 11 dropped Garon to 3-under, and he made six pars before playing the 18th. Garon used a hybrid from 220 yards out to reach the green in two, and two-putted for a closing birdie.
“This is the best round I’ve shot in the last three years I’ve played this tournament, so it feels good,” Garon said. “There are a lot of good players in the field, and I’m not even thinking about being in first. I’m going to show up for my tee time (Sunday) and just play.”
Lorio made three birdies and two bogeys, but was never better than 1-under on his round. Lorio birdied hole No. 8, his 17th of the day, and made par at 9 for his 71.
Sanchez also started his day at the 10th tee, and offset a bogey at 15 with birdies at 11 and 3.