Kessler takes 1st round lead at Stroke Play
Chris Kessler of Scottsdale, shot an opening round four-under 66 to take a one shot lead over Chan Kim of Gilbert, the 2008 champion and Mike Lopez of Phoenix at the Arizona Stroke Play Championship at TPC Scottsdale – Champions Course.
Only three other players broke par and are tied in fourth place; Brent Baylon of Phoenix, Greg Halvorson of Scottsdale and Jordan Lowery of Gilbert. Paul Welle of Scottsdale, the 2008 AGA Player of the Year, who is returning to competition in the Grand Canyon State after a year in Minnesota, shot a two-over 72. Four-time past champion and 10-time AGA Player of the Year Ken Kellaney, of Phoenix, carded a three-over 73.
Kessler, 38, the 2006 Arizona Mid-Amateur Champion, who finished alone in fifth place last year, bested his opening round from last year by a full nine strokes. His 66 was just one-shot off the tournament low last year, shot by champion Andrew Yun in the final round. Although pleased with his score, he had a very realistic assessment of the round.
“There is no doubt this round was better than last year,” he said. “Overall I drove the ball poorly, but I was able to keep it in play enough and made a couple of decent birdie putts,” he said. “There wasn’t anything fancy out there and it was a non distinguishable round. I got up and down when I didn’t drive real well. Last year was really windy and I drove it horribly and this year there wasn’t so much wind. Once you get off the fairways there is a lot of trouble.”
Kessler posted five birdies and two bogeys in the round. He avoided a bad start after a three-putt bogey five on the second hole, with back-to-back birdies. On the 174-yard third hole, he drained a 20-footer to start the rally. He had again had back-to-back birdies on the seventh and eighth holes to finish the first nine at three-under 32. On the back nine, he carded two more birdies and one lone bogey to finish that side at one-under 34.
“If I could just drive the ball better, I would feel really good,” said the banking executive. “I just don’t get too far off with my irons and I’m not a streaky putter, but rather solid. “If I can drive it well, I think I can put up some good numbers. It’s not a good course to not have your driver working well, at least not for me.”
Kim, who drives the ball over 300 yards took advantage of the three par 5s with birdies on all of them. Overall he carded six birdies and three bogeys.
Starting on the back nine, he felt right at home. When he captured the title two years ago, he finished strong with birdies on four of the last five holes and this year he had four birdies and one bogey on the last six holes of the side. “Overall I’m pretty happy with the round,” Chan said. “There were a couple of bad shots and it could have been better, but I’ll take three-under. There is still a lot of golf to be played.”
Although he notched a bogey on the 456-yard par four 11th hole, he turned it around with three-consecutive birdies starting on the 13th hole carding a two with a three-foot putt on the par 3. Flying the green on 429-yard par four 14th hole, he chipped in from 30 feet and then on the 359-yard 15th hole, he barely missed a 30-foot eagle putt to settle for a three. Another bogey on the 189-yard par 3 16th hole was followed by another birdie four when he missed a 25-foot eagle putt to finish his first nine a two-under 33.
On the front nine, he had birdies on the fourth and ninth holes and one bogey on the fourth to finish the side at one-under 34.
For Chan, the key will be his putting for the remainder of the championship.
“As long as I can roll the putts on my lines and I feel comfortable then I can shoot lights out, but today, I had some poor putts and those don’t help the round,” he said.