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Former champs among first-round leaders

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It might have something to do with Pine Ridge in its 100th anniversary year. With apologies to a cable channel, this year at the Players Cup, history matters.

Opening day of the Canadian Tour event produced a cluttered leaderboard populated with players who have either won at the old Donald Ross layout or contended, some more than once.

At the top is Alex Quiroz of Monterry, Mexico, the champion of the MTS Classic 10 years ago who shot six-under-par 65 on Thursday.

In hot pursuit, all after 66s, are Josh Habig of San Diego, the 2006 MTS Classic champ, Philadelphia's Vince Covello, who's been a top-10 finisher the last two years, London, Ont.'s Alan McLean, who took a strong run at the title in 2007 and Bellingham, Wash.'s Chris Killmer, 25, and Michael McCabe, 29, from Thousand Oaks, Calif., who are the top exceptions to Thursday's rule.

A group of eight players was one shot back after 67s, including Texan Jaime Gomez, who but for a four-foot putt on the final hole would have forced 2005 winner Lee Williamson to a playoff, and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez of Mexico, who has been in the top 13 here the last two years.

"I love it here," said Quiroz, who had seven birdies and one bogey. "I have really good memories here. I saw the sign with my name on it from 10 years ago and just said, 'Well, 10th anniversary, maybe why not play good in the 10th anniversary?' It's worked out pretty good so far."

Quiroz, who finished late, said he played smart and safe most of the day, gunning for almost no flags.

"I just love the track," he said. "I really like tree-lined golf courses, when they're kind of tight. I obviously have good memories here, plus in the practice round, felt really good with my game."

The chorus was already in full throat earlier

"This place has always been good to me," said Covello, who birdied Pine Ridge's 18th to finish five-under. "I first came here in 2006 and loved the golf course.

"It's nice to be back. I think you've got to know the golf course, the places to play from, the shot selection into certain areas.

"It's a course like I grew up on in Philadelphia, tough greens and I like the shapes off the tees out here."

Covello was tied for sixth last year, and third in 2010.

Habig, he of the now-famous mustard pants of 2006's final day, formed the tell-tale grin as the question about Pine Ridge was being asked.

"Yeah, there's definitely a feel to this place, that when you've been around it as many times as all the names you just mentioned and myself, there's a comfort level and you have a good idea where you can score and you just try to keep your ball in the right position," he said, having three other top-10s to his credit here besides his win.

As well as the key six- and eight-footers Habig talked about, he, too, made a birdie at No. 18, a bomb from all the way across the green after he narrowly escaped a bad drive in the left trees.

"A five or worse into a birdie, it really propelled the round forward," he said of the recovery.

 

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2012 C6

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