By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
For one day at least, Pipestem State Park was kinder than its Grandview counterpart.
Eight of 14 golfers finished under par after the first round of the 31st annual BNI Memorial Golf Tournament began the weekend at the Summers County course. That includes the top six, topped by co-leaders Alan Wharton and Tad Tomblin, both of whom shot a 7-under 65.
Tomblin’s name was on the lips of the foursome that finished behind him.
“Was Tad 29 on the back nine?” Wyoming East alumnus Evan Muscari asked at the scorer’s table.
Indeed, Tomblin posted a 29 after going even par on the frontside.
“I did it all on the back nine,” Tomblin said, understatedly.
Tomblin, the 2010 runner-up, had seven birdies after the turn, including one on the par-5, 535-yard No. 16.
“I made a lot of putts,” said Tomblin, who won the West Virginia Junior Amateur in 1995. “These greens were really good. For some reason I was reading them well and made a bunch of putts.”
The same was true for Wharton, a 25-year BNI veteran whose round was a tournament personal-best.
“The putter was hot, and that’s typical,” said Wharton, a Summersville native who now resides in Columbus, Ohio. “When you shoot low, it’s always based on your putter. I made about four putts (from) about 20, 25 feet.”
Wharton, who rolled into town at 10 p.m. Friday, said the longer holes helped him post his low score.
“I knocked it on three of the four par-5s for eagle,” the 2008 BNI Memorial Classic champion said. “That was nice. It was just a good day.”
Josh Arbaugh, of Canvass, is one stroke off the lead at 6-under 66 and is followed by two-time winner Brandon Reece at 5-under 67.
Brian Anania and Muscari are tied at 68.
Tim Boggs and Mike Powers broke the Pipestem roll, firing 69s at Grandview.
Three golfers, Dwight Smith, Christian Brand and Brandon Waters, are tied at 70. Brand, the two-time defending BNI champion and last month’s winner at the West Virginia Amateur, immediately took to the putting green after his round.
Finishing at 1-under 71 were Derek Brooks, Bruce Wetherholt and Brandon Watkins.
Arbaugh, like Wharton and Tomblin, credited his play on the greens.
“My putter was pretty good,” said Arbaugh, who will graduate from West Virginia University in May. “I couldn’t hit very good off the tee, but I putted and chipped pretty well. If I missed a green, I got up and down. I think there was one hole I didn’t get up and down, but I made a lot of putts.”
Reece began his day with a bogey on No. 1, just as Tomblin did. He didn’t have a 29 in his bag on the backside, but he still was able to turn potential disaster into a great round.
“I just didn’t want to do anything stupid and play my way out of the tournament,” Reece said. “I just told myself that I had pretty much three rounds after that hole, so just stay patient and keep grinding away. The birdies are out here. Stay patient and it will eventually come. That was the only bogey I had the rest of the day.”
He saved the best for last, holing a 35-foot putt on No. 18 to finish with a flourish.
“It felt good to leave on a good note,” Reece said.
The tournament continues today, with golfers switching courses. The plan for maintaining first-round momentum seemed to be the same for all involved.
“Just go out there and have fun again,” Arbaugh said. “It was good seeing these guys, like always. Just try to keep it in the fairway and make some putts again and see what happens.”
“I’m just going to go out and play,” Tomblin said. “We’ve still got 36 holes and there’s a lot of good players in this tournament.”
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