Taking advantage of a shortened course that played right into his short-game skills, Chandler shot a 7-under-par 65 Friday to take the opening-round lead in the 75th Calhoun County Championship at Cane Creek Golf Course.
It’s one shot better than defending champion Gary Wigington and three in front of third-place playing partner Janson Wilborn and Adrian Geeting.
Jeremy McGatha (T-8) and Frank Brady (T-10), the top two in the County Player of the Year points standings, shot 72 and 73, respectively.
“If it was going to happen, it had to be today,” Chandler said. “This is the day that I had a chance to gain any on them because I’m definitely going to be at a disadvantage come the next couple days when they back these tees up.”
The 34 players attempting to qualify for the championship flight played the George Cobb layout from its white tees at a length of 6,466 yards. It won’t be that way on the weekend, as the championship players will be moved back to the blue tees, which measures 7,067 yards on the scorecard.
Those par-5s they found so inviting will be an average of nearly 30 yards longer. The par-3s will stretch an average of more than 35 yards longer.
The rest of the field will play from the whites.
“Today’s set up definitely was going to be the easiest of the three days,” Wigington said. “You’ve got to take advantage of that when it’s set up like that, because the next couple days … it’ll be an amazing difference. If you were going to shoot a good score, you had the best chance to shoot it today.”
Chandler, a three-time County champion and currently third in the County Player of the Year standings, had eight birdies and a lone bogey on 16. Only two of his birdie putts were longer than 12 feet — three were in gimme range — as he typically hit an iron shot or pitch close to the hole.
“That just goes to show you if I’m up there with wedges in my hand, I’m a whole lot better than I am if I have 6-iron in my hand,” Chandler said. “It was just a putting day. I made a lot of putts.
“I haven’t been putting well — my putting has been really way off — but this was one of those days like it used to be when I played all the time and putted really good. This was fun.”
While Chandler used his short game to dominate Cane Creek, Wigington, also a three-time County champion, overpowered the course with his length.
He had driver-7 iron into three of the four par-5s. (Chandler had driver-3 wood — and still had to get up and down for birdie.) He birdied two of them and eagled No. 18 to take his score to 6-under. It’s the same score he shot in the first round last year en route to winning the title in a playoff.
In addition to the eagle, Wigington had six birdies and two bogeys. The longest of his birdies was 25 feet — on 17 — bouncing him back from a bogey the hole before. He nearly chipped in for another birdie on the par-3 12th, the ball catching a piece of the hole from out of the right-hand rough.
“It was playing short and I was hitting a lot of drivers and keeping it in play,” Wigington said. “With it playing short like it was … I was having a lot of L-wedges and pitching wedges into greens, so you’re supposed to make some birdies. That was the key, just keeping it in play.”
Play gets underway today with the leaders going off first at 8:30 a.m. Before competition gets underway, Ernest Washington, the 1972 County champion, is scheduled to hit the ceremonial first shot.
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.