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Making it look easy

Leader Barnes overcomes howling wind for 8-under 63

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It was survival for some but opportunity for all who disregarded a not insubstantial wind for the opening day of the Players Cup at Pine Ridge Golf Club.

Erik Barnes of Cape Coral, Fla., was the clear winner over the healthy south breeze that's probably Pine Ridge's toughest direction, negotiating the 6,601-yard track without a bogey and in 8-under 63, just one off the course record.

It included a four-foot birdie putt on the final hole to nip playing companion Josh Creel of Cheyenne, Wyo., by a shot.

Of course, winners aren't decided on Thursdays on the PGA Tour Canada, so there's a crowd of buffeted others who acquitted themselves on Thursday.

American Brock Mackenzie -- a 2010 Canadian Tour winner -- also went through bogey-free with a 65, while Australian Matt Smith rolled home two eagles and American Drew Stoltz made five birdies and no bogeys, both finishing at 66 to join the chase.

A total of 41 players beat par of 71 on Thursday, not to mention the active air, testament to the quality of players on the ever-improving tour.

In describing his round, Barnes seemed to have the wind tuned out.

"It seems like the ball just wants to find the hole for me so obviously it wasn't easy conditions today but me and Creel just kept feeding off each other and kept making birdies," Barnes, 26, said after six birdies and an eagle. "We knocked some putts in, hit some really good shots and the next thing you know, we both played really well."

After finishing fourth in Saskatoon last week, Barnes knocked in a couple of "bombs" on Thursday. The first was from 40 feet for a birdie at the par-4 second and the other from about the same range for another birdie into the wind on the par-5 eighth.

On the back nine, the leader continued with his own highlight reel. He drove it over the green at the 308-yard par-4 13th then promptly chipped it down the hill and in for an eagle.

"Just never looked like it was going to miss," he said, smiling. "It was a really good day."

Made even better when he knocked it to four feet from off the fairway at the par-4 18th for a closing birdie.

"I judged the flyer lie perfectly," Barnes said. "I had 177 (yards) straight into the wind and that's either a smash six iron or a punch five but I hit a seven iron and it just came out flying, it jumped and it jumped perfectly, landed on the front of the green and rolled up real close.

"When you're hitting a shot from that spot into the wind, to that pin location and (get it) that close, you know it's a good day."

Watching that, Creel came up short of the 18th green and couldn't get up and down, the bogey hardly spoiling his day but leaving him one shot back.

"Erik and I were battling back and forth all day and I think when you're seeing someone play well, it's easier to feed off of them and do the same," Creel said. "I had a little hiccup on 18 but otherwise it's a solid day.

"The wind ate it up (on 18). I hit eight-iron and thought it was all right but came up short, left the chip short and didn't make the putt."

That duo had the edge of the morning draw, when the wind was just ramping up, but Mackenzie came out of the afternoon shift with his 65.

He called it just a quality day of surviving.

"I was just holding on for dear life and happened to make some birdies," he said. "But I really controlled my ball well today. You couldn't tell on a lot of tee shots today just how much that wind was going to move the ball."

Mackenzie has one good week to his credit in 2014, a tie for second in Victoria.

Matt Hill was Thursday's top Canadian, in a group that finished at four-under-par 67, while tour 2014 money leader Joel Dahmen was in a group at 68 that included Fargo's Josh Persons.

Play continues today, when the wind is expected to shift around to the north or northwest, with the cut after 36 holes to the low 60 and ties for the weekend.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 11, 2014 C1

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