Bettencourt’s 66 leads RTO | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Bettencourt’s 66 leads RTO

Darrell Moody, Tribune News Service

RENO – Matt Bettencourt is hoping that the 12th annual Reno-Tahoe Open turns out to be his coming out party.

Bettencourt, who has made just eight cuts in 21 attempts, torched Montreux Golf & Country Club Thursday for six birdies and an eagle en route to a 6-under-par 66 and the first-round lead.

Chris DiMarco was a shot back at 67, while 2006 champ Will MacKenzie was at 4-under 68 along with Craig Bowden. There was a logjam at 3-under-par 69, which included J.J. Henry, Jim Gallagher, Jim Carter, Craig Barlow, Chad Campbell, Steve Allan, Robert Garrigus, Mark Hensby, John Mallinger, Steve Elkington, Woody Austin, Todd Fischer, John Merrick, Matias Gronberg, Bill Lunde, Kevin Streelman and Jarrod Lyle.

Bettencourt hit 13 of 14 fairways and he hit 15 greens in regulation. That’s winning golf on any course.

“I started out pretty well,” he said. “I missed a couple of short ones on Nos. 1 and 2; a couple of 5-footers for birdies. I made a 25-footer for birdie on No. 6, but other than that everything was with five or six feet of the hole. I hit some quality iron shots.

“I’m very pleased with the round. I’ve been struggling a little bit with my expectations and I’ve been battling a few injuries. It feels good to be healthy and playing good golf.”

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After the aforementioned near misses on the first two holes, Bettencourt birdied Nos. 3, 4 and 6, sinking putts of 7, 4 and 26-feet, respectively. He made his fourth birdie on the front side, draining an 8-footer after a nice chip shot from the primary rough.

Bettencourt birdied Nos. 11 and 13 before making the first of two bogeys on the day.

At the par-5 11th, Bettencourt hit his third shot to 3-feet and made the putt. At the par-3 12th, he hit his tee shot on the back fringe and drained another 3-footer. On 16, the 168-yard par-3, he put his tee shot in the primary rough and was unable to get up and down to save par.

Bettencourt made up for that bogey with an eagle at the par-5 17th.

“When I got to 17, I had a good talk with my caddie,” Bettencourt said. “I had to relax and get back in the moment.”

He did thanks to a 355-yard drive. He followed that up with a 240-yard 4-iron which ended up 3-feet from the hole. He tapped in to get to 7-under-par.

“It was great when I got up there and saw it was three feet,” Bettencourt said. “A left-center putt; a pretty simple putt.”

He lost a shot on the par-4 18th when his tee shot went in the fairway bunker. He put his approach about 25 yards from the green, chipped up and two-putted from 16 feet.

DiMarco, who has made 10 cuts in 15 attempts this year, said his play has improved quite a bit in recent weeks. He finished tied for 27th at Travelers, tied for 25th at the AT&T National and tied for 39th at the John Deere Classic.

“I went back to my old irons,” DiMarco said. “I had Ping make me a set like my old ones (i3 Plus Blade) with obviously the conforming groove, and that’s really made a difference. I think the last four weeks my irons have probably been top-5 in greens in regulation. When you’re putting for birdie, it’s a lot easier than when you are putting for par.”

DiMarco finished strong with birdies on Nos. 16, 17 and 18, sinking putts of 17, 3 and 7-feet, respectively.

“You know, the golf course is like that,” DiMarco said. “You want to get off to a good start early; the first four or five holes you really want to get birdies. Then you get to the back and you have a couple of more birdies. The last three holes, with the way the wind is blowing are birdie holes.”

DiMarco hasn’t won since the 2002 Phoenix Open, so a win would be huge for him.

“It would be great,” DiMarco said. “Obviously I still feel I can win out here. My confidence is slowly but surely coming back. I’m starting to get comfortable on the golf course again. I’ve been seeing good strides here for the last month like I said, and I have a lot of confidence.”

MacKenzie probably deserved a better fate than his 4-under-par round. He notched seven birdies, but had a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 fourth and bogeyed the 477-yard par-4 15th.

“I hit a lot of good shots,” MacKenzie said. “I hit it good; hit it well for a change. I’ve been playing like crud this year. I’ve got a sour taste in my mouth. I needed to shoot a good round, and this was a decent round. I need to shoot a low one to get my confidence back.”

Starting at No. 10, MacKenzie birdied the par-5 11th and the par-4 14th.

On No. 11, MacKenzie’s second shot barely missed the green. He chipped to inside a foot and made the putt. At 14, MacKenzie drilled his approach shot from 186 yards to within 6 feet and holed out to go 2-under-par.

MacKenzie gave a shot back at the par-4 15th, but birdied Nos. 16, 17 and 18 to make the turn at 4-under-par 32. The first two birdies were 1 1/2 and 2-feet, respectively.

At No. 1, MacKenzie put his approach shot to 21 feet and drained the putt to go 5-under-par.

Disaster struck at No. 4, the 518-yard par-5.

He sliced the ball off the tee. It hit a tree at the corner of the dogleg and was never found despite a five-minute search by MacKenzie and two spotters. He ended with a double-bogey 7, dropping him to 3-under-par.

MacKenzie caught a stroke back when he birdied the difficult par-4 8th, draining a putt from 9 feet.

“I was up first and had just missed a makeable putt on the last hole,” MacKenzie said. “I hit a good, solid shot, but it started leaking right and hit that one tree in the corner. If it doesn’t hit that tree I’m probably in play. – not in the fairway. It hits the tree in the corner and we can’t find it. It was not even that bad of sage over there. I was really amazed we lost the ball.”

Barlow started on the back nine and shot a 5-under 31 with birdies at Nos. 10, 13, 16, 17 and 18. The longest putt in that span was 10 feet.

Barlow parred the first seven holes on the front side, but finished bogey-bogey, obliterating a very good round.