The first round of the 57th Navajo Trail Open at Hillcrest Golf Club presented plenty of challenges, but low scores were attainable.
Albuquerque’s Wil Collins, the 2016 NTO champion, and Derek Tolan of Highlands Ranch took the first-round lead Friday with rounds of 4-under-par 67. Eric Bradley of Parker and Pueblo’s Glenn Workman sit one shot back at 3-under par after 18 holes of the 54-hole tournament.
“I feel fortunate again,” Collins said. “I didn’t really feel like I deserved the score I got and I did a lot of scrambling, but that’s what you’ve got to do out here. I made a lot of key putts to save par that kept my attitude in it. All in all, I’m pretty happy with my score.”
Only seven of the 39 players in the professional field shot under par, with three others at even after rounds of 71.
Carbondale’s Doug Rohrbaugh is two off the lead at 2 under, Jimmy Makloski of Pueblo and Eddie Stewart of Jackson, Wyoming, are three back at 1 under. Billy Comeaux of Scottsdale, Arizona, Durango native Robert Kalinowski and Albuquerque’s Sam Saunders are even after 18 holes.
Collins got hot in the middle of the round. He birdied the 240-yard par-3 fifth and made birdie again at No. 6 after playing a flop shot to inside a couple feet to give him enough momentum to get through the turn before he scrambled to keep the round together.
Tolan played solid throughout the round with only one bogey, which came on the par-4 eighth after he hit his tee shot, a 4-iron, 290 yards through the fairway and into tree trouble. He bounced back with a birdie on the ninth with a 4-foot putt that had about a foot of break.
“I felt pretty good. I was in a good spot mentally, which was pretty nice,” Tolan said. “I controlled the ball pretty well and putted decent, which was nice because these greens can really get away from you, and I made a couple really clutch putts that helped out a lot.”
As it has always done, Hillcrest protected itself from too many low rounds with fast greens and tucked pin positions that award players who showed patience, picked the right pins to attack and took three putts out of the equation.
“I made a lot of putts, and that was the key,” said Bradley, who played golf for Fort Lewis College and graduated in 1996. “My lag putts were good enough to leave me with 3-footers, and I was solid over those. I made a couple good birdies on the back. I left a few out there, but I also saved some pars as well. I would have liked to make a few more, but that’s always the case.”
A breezy afternoon also played a factor for players, who saw swirling winds that made it tough to judge what distance to play on approach shots.
“It was tough,” Tolan said of the wind. “The pins and the greens and their speed made it tough, but throw in some swirling and gusting winds and that made it really tough.
“On No. 12, I think it was 159 (yards), and when I went up there I was into the wind and by the time I hit my shot it was down wind. It’s over water to a pin sloping back to front. With no wind, that’s an easy hole, but with wind like that, swirling and gusting, it turns it into a really hard hole.”
Aside from the wind playing tricks on the players during the first round, weather conditions were nearly ideal for the pros in the afternoon. Saturday’s second round will not be.
Saturday’s forecast is calling for a high of about 60 degrees with more than an inch of rain expected to fall in Durango. The professional field is scheduled to tee off at 7:24 a.m. with light rain in the area. Heavier rain is expect to hit around 10 a.m. and continue through the afternoon. Players could also deal with smoke from the 416 Fire that has settled into Durango each morning before blowing off later in the morning.
Hillcrest plans to run the tournament as scheduled, and, as the first round wrapped up, members of the staff reminded players to bring their rain gear Saturday.
While the course will play much different Saturday, assuming players are able to get the round completed despite the weather, most players don’t plan on changing the way they’ll attack the course and will continue to put an emphasis on being in the right spots on the green.
“If you miss it on the wrong side of the green, you’re hoping to make bogey,” said Workman, a 22-year-old who played collegiately at Wyoming. “It’s definitely a course that challenges your approach shots. You have to miss in the right spots or you’re making bogey.
“I don’t think (the weather) changes the mindset. I love grinding it out no matter what the conditions are, and everyone has to play in it. I’ll just go out and try my hardest in the conditions.”