Red-hot Tyler McDaniel struck quickly before two weather delays in grabbing a two-shot lead after Wednesday’s opening round of the Natural Resource Partners Bluegrass Junior.
The 15-year-old from Manchester, Ky., had one of the earliest tee times (7:48 a.m.) and put up a 4-under-par 66 at Bellefonte Country Club.
About an hour later, play was stopped for almost two hours due to lightning in the area. Another interruption at 4:58 p.m. took players off the course for an hour.
McDaniel said he was happy to avoid the two delays that made it tricky to get the first round completed before nightfall.
“I didn’t really like it this morning, but after a couple of holes the conditions got almost perfect,” said McDaniel, who played bogey-free golf and racked up four birdies on the back nine.
The girls division has three Kentucky players leading the way. Becky Sharpe of Williamsburg posted a 2-under 68 for a one-shot edge on defending champion Emma Talley of Princeton. South Shore’s Hannah Sublett is next at 72.
McDaniel is on a roll to start his American Junior Golf Association career. In his first event last week, he shot rounds of 67, 68, 69 to win an AJGA Junior All-Star tournament in Ringgold, Ga., for age 12-15 players.
“I’ve surprised myself a little bit,” McDaniel said. “I know I won last week and did play pretty good, but I didn’t play that well in the qualifier (Monday) in the qualifier. Today I was trying not to think a whole lot and just go out there and play my best. If I do that, I’m talented enough to where good rounds will come.”
McDaniel decided he needed to be more aggressive after shooting 74 in the qualifier.
“I pulled my driver out about two times in the qualifier,” he said. “Today, it was five or six.”
The brother of University of Kentucky golf signee Todd McDaniel parred the first 10 holes, but wasn’t satisfied.
“I really wanted to make some birdies on the back nine,” Tyler said. “What really got me going was driving the green on No. 11 (par-4, 292 yards). I had an easy two-putt birdie. I saw the ball go in the hole for the birdie and told myself I could do it again.”
He sank another birdie putt on No. 13, missed a chance on the next hole, then followed two “easy pars” with close approach shots on 17 and 18 to set up birdies.”
“I was hitting the greens and had birdie chances all day,” McDaniel said. “I just couldn’t make any putts until the back nine.”
Tyler’s score bettered the first-round 68 by his older brother last year. Todd went on to tie for fourth place with a 209 total.
Hager Collins of Lexington shot 68 and is second heading into today’s second round. Two other Kentuckians — Fred Allen Meyer and Ben Fister — share the third spot with Haoyuan Lu of Bradenton, Fla. at 69.
Bellefonte Country Club member Nick Duffield of Chesapeake, Ohio, is tied for ninth at 71 after playing his way into his first AJGA event by shooting 70 in the qualifier.
“I was more excited today than nervous,” said Duffield, a 16-year-old whose playing group included golfers from Colorado and New York. “I tried to be calm and have a fun time. I’m just from 30 minutes away. People in this tournament are coming from all over the country and outside. It’s crazy.”
Duffield’s first-round showing left him greatly pleased, except for the last hole.
He made birdies on 16 and 17 to go 1-under, but finished with a double-bogey after returning from one of the weather delays. Following a good drive, the wind played havoc with his 6-iron shot and left the ball in a bunker.
“I should have been under (par),” he said. “I’m going to be regretting that last hole, but I really learned a lot out there. Hopefully I will play well the rest of the way and take a bunch from it.”
Sharpe surged into the girls’ lead thanks to four birdies on the front nine.
“I haven't been putting well all week and for some reason it just came together today, which is good timing because this is my first AJGA tournament,” she said.
Talley, meanwhile, is coming off her seventh AJGA victory last week in East Moline, Ill., and said it felt good to be back at Bellefonte.
“I did today what I wanted to do, put myself in good position,” she said. “I know I have to play well the next two days. Hopefully I can get another win.”
Sublett also put herself in solid position with a 2-over-par round.
“I’ll take it,” said the former Greenup County High School standout who signed with Morehead Sate. “I still feel I left some putts out there, but you can’t have everything going on the same day.”
She made birdies on 1 and 17, along with an up-and-down par on 14.
“That’s what I needed,” she said. “I kept my composure.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.