Lightning rules first round of RTO | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Lightning rules first round of RTO

Darrell Moody

RENO – Impressive iron play and a hot putterÝ propelled rookie Roland Thatcher to the top of the leader board after the first round at the weather-ravaged Reno-Tahoe Open on Thursday at Montreux Golf & Country Club.

Thatcher, who needed a birdie putt at the final hole in qualifying school to get his card this year, birdied five of his first six holes en route to a 6-under 66 over the 7,472-yard layout. His 30 on the back nine tied the course record and his 66 tied his career-low round.

Lightning forced two delays in the first round. The first came at 12:57 p.m. and lasted 81 minutes. The second came at 2:57 and play was resumed at 5:58 p.m. Darkness halted play at 7:46 p.m. with 66 players still on the course. First-round play will resume this morning at 7 a.m.

A stroke back of Thatcher at 66 were Mark Wilson and Mark Wiebe. Another stroke back at 68 were Donnie Hammond, Corey Pavin, Hidemichi Tanaka and Steve Allan. John Rollins, Carl Pettersson, J.J. Henry and Joel Kribel were at 3-under 69.

Mark Calcavecchia, who birdied four of his last six holes, got it to 5 under after 11 holes before play was stopped. Vaughn Taylor, Kevin Sutherland, Scott Simpson and Dennis Paulsen were at 4 under.

“I got off to a great start,” Thatcher said. “It was the kind of start you dream about. I couldn’t keep up the good stretch on the back nine. I got it to seven before the delay. I had visions of picking up one or two more strokes but finished by dropping one.

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“It was one of my better rounds this year. I hope I can finish the year with a lot more rounds like this. I feel comfortable on this course. I have played well at altitude. I like playing Nicklaus courses. I’ve had some success on his courses. I’d like to have a good finish here and in the next six events before the reshuffle.”

Since this is Thatcher’s first year on the tour and he doesn’t have full-exempt status, he must move up in the rankings among the Nationwide Tour players and the players that came to the tour out of Qualifying School, so he can be invited to more tournaments.

Starting on No. 10, a 494-yard par-4, Thatcher hit an 8-iron to within 3 feet and tapped in for a birdie. On the 584-yard par-5 11th, he chipped to within 10 feet and drained the putt. On the 186-yard par-3 12th, he hit a 7-iron to 4 feet and nailed the putt. He hit his tee almost to the green on the 355-yard par-4 and got it up and down for another birdie.

Thatcher moved to 5 under with a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 3, a 429-yard par-4. He strung together five straight pars before light rain and lightning stopped play. After the first delay, he bogeyed No. 8, a 464-yard par 4 after hitting his second shot into the bunker. The ball plugged and Thatcher had trouble getting it out cleanly.

“I can’t tell you whether it (the delay) did anything or not,” Thatcher said. “I felt comfortable over the ball.”

Wiebe, who was in the first threesome of the morning, shot a bogey-free round. He had two birdies on the front side and three on the back side.

Not bad for a guy that wasn’t supposed to even be in the tournament. Wiebe was seventh alternate but decided to come to Reno early anyway.

“I came in Sunday and by Monday I was the second alternate,” Wiebe said. “I came to practice on Tuesday and the tournament officials called and said I was in.”

“I’m very pleased,” Wiebe said. “The score is nice, but I’m more pleased with my putting. I’m happy with the way I rolled the ball.”

Wiebe started on No. 10 and rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 12, a 186-yard par-3. He finished off his first nine with a 7-foot birdie putt on No. 17 and a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 18. He canned a 20-foot birdie putt on No.1 and then hit a nice 8-iron to within 4 feet at No. 8 and sank the putt.

Wiebe believes that his game is slowly coming around after he had surgery on his left elbow 2 1/2 years ago. Wiebe said that doctor took some dead tendons from his left elbow and then re-attached the remaining tendons. He said he didn’t pick up a club for seven months.

“I haven’t been playing much on this (PGA) tour,” he said. “It’s taken quite a while to come back. I saw some signs last year. This year has been fun getting back to the competitive side of things. I’ve seen some progress after a year of no progress.”

Calcavecchia, who started at No. 10, drained a 15-footer at 12. He sank an 8-footer at 15, a 2-footer at No. 17, a 15-footer at No. 18 and almost aced the 171-yard second hole.

“If I hadn’t of pushed a 12-footer (at No. 1), I would have had five (birdies in a row),” Calcavecchia. “It was so nice out there. There was zero wind. I’d like to kep it going (today). I love playing early. I’ll be raring to go.”

– Darrell Moody can be reached at moody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281.