Wichita, Kan. – Aaron Watkins (pictured by Getty Images) fired a bogey-free 63 Thursday afternoon to take a one-stroke lead at the 25th playing of the Air Capital Classic presented by AETNA. The former Kansas State Wildcat made five birdies on the back nine for a 30 on the newly converted par-70 Crestview Country Club
Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans, two-time Air Capital Classic champion Brad Elder and Australia’s Gavin Coles carded 6-under 64.
Six players are tied for fifth after a 5-under 68 including sponsor’s pick Brock Mackenzie, Blayne Barber and Canada’s Albin Choi.
Watkins is excited to be back in Kansas and has plenty of fan support this week for the tournament. The 31-year-old pro is playing this event for the seventh time and recalled past experiences to come up with a strategy for this week.
“It’s always good to be back,” he said. “Pretty much every hole out here sets up for me. So it’s something that I can look back on.”
Watkins has had an up and down season so far. The Arizona resident has started to turn things around and credits an improvement in his putting for his best finish of the season, a T14 at the Cleveland Open. Watkins, who recorded 25 putts in the first round, spent a few days in the off week practicing in nearby Manhattan, Kan. and has seen it payoff on the greens so far this week.
“Seeing the ball go in is always helpful,” he said. “It’s been kind of a struggle early in the year, but it’s been going in the right direction the last couple of weeks.”
Schniederjans, who received an invitation because of his victory in the United States Collegiate Championship last October, bogeyed his first hole of the day when he missed a short putt for par. After a slow start the Georgia Tech All-American recorded seven birdies highlighted by a chip in on No. 17 that drew the loudest roar Schniederjans has ever heard in a competitive round. The Dallas, Texas native birdied his last three holes and was excited with the way he completed his first round.
“I had an amazing finish,” he said. “If you’re patient and you believe that can happen to you, it sets you up to do well.”
This isn’t the first time Schneiderjans has played competitively in Kansas this year. The 21-year-old amateur recently finished runner-up in the individual portion of the NCAA Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club in nearby Hutchinson. The rising senior hits the ball lower than most long hitters and believes his ability to control his trajectory gives him an advantage in the windy conditions.
Schneiderjans’ 64 set the tone for his week. He felt it was very important to get off to a good start and knows that this is a marathon and not a sprint.
“It’s 72 holes, so you can’t put too much pressure on the first 18,” he said. “I know that there is a lot of golf left.”
FIRST ROUND NOTES:
* Thursday weather: Mostly cloudy. Wind S 10-20 mph. Daytime high 87.
* Aaron Watkins carded a 63 in the first round of the Air Capital Classic in 2008. He recorded 68-69-69 over the final 54 holes and finished 11th.
* Watkins was originally a sponsor’s pick this week before he earned a spot in the field with a T14 at the Cleveland Open.
* Watkins recorded his first bogey-free round since the third round of the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation.
* Brad Elder has won the Air Capital Classic two times before this week. (1999, 2007)
* In 1999, Elder posted a 66 in the first round, and in 2007 he posted a 65. His 64 on Thursday is the lowest opening round score he has recorded in 11 starts at this event.
* Elder’s second round scoring average at this event is 68.90.
* Elder’s round in detail: 7 of 14 fairways, 12 of 18 greens, 2 of 2 sand saves, 25 putts.
“Today was a good round, I played solid. I like the town, I like the course and the people are great.”
* Gavin Coles 6-under 64 in the first round is his lowest opening round score in seven starts at this event.
* Coles round in detail: 8 of 14 fairways, 14 of 18 greens, 26 putts.
* In 2006, Coles fired a 61 in the second round of this event and was tied for the lead with Matt Kuchar after 36 holes.
* Ollie Schneiderjans 64 in the first round is the lowest score posted by an amateur at this event.
* Brock Mackenzie is playing this week on a sponsor’s invite after finishing atop the five tournament points race on the All-American Gateway Tour.
* Mackenzie’s carded a 30 on his back nine that included a birdie-eagle-birdie stretch that started on No. 13.
* This is Mackenzie’s first start on the Web.com Tour since the 2011 Mylan Classic.
* Mackenzie’s first round 65 matches his career-low first round score on Tour. Mackenzie posted a 65 in the opening round of the Midwest Classic in 2011 and finished T51.
* Nathan Tyler’s five consecutive birdies on Thursday morning are two short of tying the tournament record held by Rocky Walcher (2000), All six of Tyler’s birdies came on the back nine, and began on No. 13, where he fired a 30. The 67 places Tyler T16 after the first round.
* There are five past champions in the field this week. Here are their current results:
Brad Elder (1999, 2007) – 64 (T2)
Jeff Klauk (2003) – 71 (T83)
Mathew Goggin (2011) – 74 (T139)
Casey Wittenberg (2012) – 71 (T83)
Scott Parel (2013) – 67 (T16)
* Bogey-free rounds this week:
RD1 – Aaron Watkins (63), Gavin Coles (64), Blayne Barber (65), Andres Gonzales (65), Jimmy Gunn (67), Steven Alker (68), Kyle Stough (69)
* Scoring averages for the week:
Front (35) Back (35) Total (70)
R1 35.244 34.891 70.135
NEXT WEEK: The Web.com Tour travels to Evansville, Ind. for the United Leasing Championship presented by PTI at Victoria National Golf Club June 23-30. In a Monday finish, Ben Martin earned his first career title in a playoff victory over Ashley Hall, Billy Hurley and Joe Affrunti when he two-putted the first extra hole for par.
1. Aaron Watkins 63 (-7)
T2. Brad Elder 64 (-6)
T2. Ollie Schniederjans – a 64 (-6)
T2. Gavin Coles 64 (-6)
T5 .Six tied at 65 (-5)
Source: PGA Tour