Golf

Pensacola’s Joe Durant tops the field after MGRC Day 1

Jay Haas hits his ball out of a sand trap on the first hole during the first round of the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic on Friday at Fallen Oak.
Jay Haas hits his ball out of a sand trap on the first hole during the first round of the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic on Friday at Fallen Oak. amccoy@sunherald.com

Joe Durant likes to think of the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic as his home event.

In the first round on Friday, the Pensacola native thrived in Fallen Oak's familiar surroundings.

Durant shot a 6-under, 66 at Fallen Oak on Friday to take a one-stroke lead on the field headed into Saturday’s second round.

"The course is in great shape. I love coming here so much," Durant said following his best round in his third year at the MGRC. "This is one of my favorite events, only an hour and a half down the road."

Gates will open at 8 a.m. on Saturday and players will begin teeing off at 9 a.m.

Durant had seven birdies and one bogey. He had three birdies on the final five holes, including one on No. 18 to grab the lead.

"They had the tees up a box with the wind changing around quite a bit," Durant said as he recalled his approach on the 18th hole. "I hit it way down to about 130 yards for the second shot. I hit it about 3 feet (from the hole). I hit a nice birdie to finish off a good day."

Durant was one of 49 players to finish even or better in the opening round.

"I'm very pleased with my round," he said. "The wind wasn't that difficult as far as velocity, but the direction was tricky today because it was kind of switching around from time to time."

Four men are tied for second place at 5-under – Scott Hoch, Lee Janzen, Jay Haas and defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez.

After dealing with an upset stomach early in the week, Janzen may have been the most surprised to be in a strong position after one day at the PGA Tour Champions event.

"There was something I ate that didn't react very well," he said. "I was in bed all day Tuesday and I was fortunate to play the pro-am on Wednesday. I haven't been able to prepare very well. I'm not 100 percent physically yet.

"I kind of thought it would be wise to remove expectations and go out and work on my game. It's amazing how often that happens – You forget about trying and all of a sudden you shoot a good score somehow."

Janzen registered four consecutive birdies on holes No. 12-15, giving him a 32 on the final nine holes.

Hoch also had a 32 on the back nine, putting up birdies on Nos. 11, 12, 15 and 17.

"It feels good to start the tournament well," Hoch said. "It was slow early, but I kept hitting all the greens and made eight straight pars.

"The first nine is tough to score on. I was hitting five's and four-irons the whole time."

Golf's most interesting man

Jimenez again made a strong case to be considered the man to beat this weekend at Fallen Oak.

He was one of the more steady performers of the day, registering three birdies on both the front and back nine.

His only mistake came on the ninth hole with a narrow miss on a putt.

"I had a 3-under on the final nine, but I was pretty solid all day," Jimenez said. "I hit the tees pretty good and I made a good putt on the 17th for a birdie there. It was pretty nice, solid."

Considering Jimenez started the 2016 MGRC with a 68, he's in good position headed into the second around. He's at 13-under over his last two runs at Fallen Oak after shooting a 64 in the final round last year.

Haas's move up the leaderboard was helped by an eagle on hole No. 15. He and Kevin Sutherland were the only men with eagles on Friday. Sutherland's big shot came on hole No. 13.

Other notables: Poplarville native Glen Day birded on No. 18 to finished at 4-under and tied for sixth. John Daly also had a good opening round at 3-under. The 2014 MGRC champion, Jeff Maggert, finished tied for 10th with Daly at 3-under.

Game plan

What: Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic Round 2

When: Gates open at 8 a.m., Saturday, tee times begin at 9 a.m.

Where: Fallen Oak, Saucier

Tickets: Visit 2017MGRC.com

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