Newburgh, Ind. – Korea’s Sung Kang and Mexico’s Roberto Diaz (pictured by Getty Images) each posted a 6-under 66’s Thursday and grabbed a share of the clubhouse lead in the weather-delayed opening round of the United Leasing Championship presented by PTI.
Duke grad Ryan Blaum and 2013 q-school medalist Zack Fischer carded 5-under 67s and currently share third place.
Colombia’s Andres Echavarria, Adam Hadwin of Canada and Brazil’s Alex Rocha each shot 68 and are currently tied for fifth place. Mark Hubbard and Brad Schneider are both 4-under par but failed to finish the opening round.
Afternoon thunderstorms moved into the Evansville area late in the afternoon and play was suspended at 4:50 p.m. with half the field still on the course. Play resumed at 6:35 p.m. but the 1:35 delay was enough to prevent 21 players in the field of 156 from finishing.
That group will return Friday morning and resume play at 7:30 a.m. The second round will start as scheduled at 6:40 a.m.
“Everything is getting better,” said Kang, who has top-25 finishes in his last two starts. “I played well the last couple of weeks and was hitting some good putts but they didn’t go in. I was rock solid toward the end of last year and it’s starting to feel like I’m almost there.”
Kang saved his best for last, hitting a 3-iron from 246 yards to within eight feet and then canned the eagle putt for sole possession of the clubhouse lead at the time.
“I just played solid today,” he said. “I’m not thinking about what position I’m in. There is a lot of golf left and this course is really tough. There are some easy holes that you have to take advantage of but the last three holes are really tough.”
Diaz was among the last to finish, choosing to play the 9th hole as darkness loomed.
“It’s been a long day and I’d like to get as much sleep as possible,” joked Diaz, who made sure to hit his tee shot before the horns sounded to halt play. Diaz and his playing partners never wavered as they approached their second shots.
Diaz knocked his second near the green on the 558-yard hole, chipped to three feet and canned the birdie putt to tie Kang for the lead.
“I hit my driver really well today,” he said after hitting all 14 fairways.
Kang’s nearest challengers are Blaum, who also eagled the ninth hole to close his round, and Fischer, who finished with back-to-back birdies on the front side.
“I plodded along today and took care of the par-5’s,” said Blaum. “I like the course. It puts a premium on hitting fairways and staying below the hole on the greens.”
Blaum said the course requires complete focus.
“It’s just a really good layout,” he said. “It challengers every facet of your game, just like another tournament I played in recently.”
Blaum’s reference was to Pinehurst No. 2, site of the U.S. Open, where he missed the cut a couple weeks ago.
Fischer’s 5-under score is his best of the season and the former Texas-Arlington standout credited a change in his game to Thursday’s success.
“It’s been a struggle,” said Fischer, who has made six cuts in 10 starts and is No. 118 on the money list. “I feel a lot better this week. I’ve been working with my coach and we’ve gone back to hitting a small fade off the tee. I tend to draw the ball and right now it feels like I’m aiming nine miles to the left. It’s not a big fade and may be more of a straight ball but we’re just trying to eliminate the draw.”
Thursday’s round was the first time Fischer put the new strategy in place.
“You’ve got to hit fairways out here,” he said. “The second shots are so much more important because the greens have hills and knobs in them and you have to hit in the right section. If you miss fairways you can’t make birdies. You know what they say, two things that don’t last long are dogs chasing cars and pros putting for pars.”
FIRST ROUND NOTES:
* Thursday weather: Partly cloudy. Wind SW 6-12 mph. Overnight low 69. Daytime high 88.
* First-round play was suspended at 4:50 p.m. due to threatening conditions in the area. The full wave of afternoon players were all on the course at the time. The lead groups had finished 16 holes and the last groups had completed eight holes. Play resumed at 6:25 p.m. for a total delay of 1:35. Play was suspended due to darkness at 8:13 p.m.
* Hugo Leon withdrew during the first round due to illness.
* Jonathan Randolph withdrew during the round because of a wrist injury. Randolph will take next week off from competition because he is scheduled to get married on Saturday, July 5.
* Sung Kang is a conditional member of the Web.com Tour this year. The 27-year old from Seoul now lives in Irving, Texas and has made three cuts in four starts. He was the last man in the field at the Brasil Champions presented by HSBC and finished T33. He is currently No. 121 on the money list.
* Roberto Diaz, 27, was born in Veracruz, Mexico but now calls Myrtle Beach, SC, home. He is a 2009 graduate of the University of South Carolina-Aiken. He has made five cuts in seven starts this year and his best finish to date is a T4 at the Rex Hospital Open. He is No. 46 on the money list.
* Rookie Daniel Berger shot a 2-over 74. The 20-year old from Florida State has made has made the cut in nine of 12 starts this year and entered the week No. 13 on the money list. Berger made his professional debut in this event last year after gaining entry as a Monday qualifier. He posted scores of 76-70 but missed the 36-hole cut.
* Ryan Armour continues his solid play of late, posting a 2-under 70. Armour has finished T4/Cleveland Open and T5/Air Capital Classic and entered the week No. 23 on the money list.
* Sebastian Cappelen, winner of last week’s Air Capital Classic in his first Tour start, shot a 1-under 71 in Thursday’s opener and is T29.
* There are a half dozen Web.com Tour pros with regional ties this week:
Chris Baker Seymour, IN 72
Derek Fathauer U. of Louisville 74
Adam Hadwin U. of Louisville 68
Justin Thomas Goshen, KY 70
Steve Wheatcroft Indiana University 72
Chase Wright Indiana University 2-over thru 16*
* Julio Vegas, younger brother of PGA TOUR winner Jhonattan Vegas, is making his Tour debut this week after gaining entry through the Monday qualifier. Vegas was a member of the Texas Longhorns’ 2012 NCAA Championship team and teammate of current PGA TOUR standout Jordan Spieth. Vegas stumbled out of the gate with three double bogeys in a four-hole stretch on his opening nine. He is currently 11-over through 16 holes.
* Corey Whitsett, a four-time All-American at Alabama, is making his second career start after his debut last week at the Air Capital Classic (T38) in Wichita, KS. Whitsett received a sponsor exemption into this week’s field and posted a 1-under 71. Whitsett, from Houston, won the 2007 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.
* Joel Dahmen, a two-time winner in just three starts on PGA TOUR Canada, is among those who did not complete the first round. Dahmen, who leads that Tour’s Order of Merit after blitzing the field by five shots at last week’s Syncrude Boreal Open in Alberta, also received a sponsor exemption into this week’s event. Dahmen played college golf at the University of Washington. This is his second career start on the Web.com Tour – he missed the cut at the 2011 Albertsons Boise Open in his native state of Idaho. Dahmen is currently 1-over through 14 holes.
1. Sung Kang 66 (-6)
1. Roberto Diaz 66 (-6)
3. Ryan Blaum 67 (-5)
3. Zack Fischer 67 (-5)
5. Andres Echavarria 68 (-4)
5. Adam Hadwin 68 (-4)
5. Alex Rocha 68 (-4)
5. Mark Hubbard 4-under thru 17
5. Brad Schneider 4-under thru 17*
Source: PGA Tour