Chris Thompson has always come into the Greater Cedar Rapids Open playing well. This year was a little different, with a nagging back problem forcing him out of his last two events.
But with some medical help earlier this week, Thompson's usual result when playing Hunters Ridge Golf Course in Marion was no different than past years.
The perennial contender fired a 7-under-par 65 in windy conditions and grabbed the first-round lead Friday in the 14th annual edition of the event.
"I'm really pleased with 65," said Thompson, who had seven birdies and no bogeys in his round. "I was pretty shaky the first six holes. I made 6-foot par putts on both (hole numbers) five and six to keep the round together. I started to play well from seven on, with a few hiccups sprinkled in. The putter was the key though. I was really efficient on and around the greens."
Thompson, 36, who finished tied for second in last year's weather-shortened 36-hole event and was tied for the lead two years ago heading into the final round, is one stroke up on West Branch native Dave Rummells.
Rummells, 54, battling putting problems all year until recently, fired a 5-under 31 on the Hunters Ridge front nine and settled for one more birdie along the way. Rummells used a putting video analysis program through the urging of a Florida friend and has found new life with the short stick – or in Rummells' case, the long stick.
"It's encouraging," said Rummells, a past senior champ at the GCRO who leads that division after Friday's round. "It (his bad putting) was starting to get into my sub-conscious."
Rummells, a PGA and Champions Tour veteran, always seems to play well in the GCRO.
"This is a good course for me," said Rummells, talking about competing against players half his age. "With the dry conditions, the rough, they can into trouble. That leads right into my hands.
"I have no business beating (2009 GCRO champ) Sean McCarty," said Rummells of one his Friday playing partners, who he beat by three shots. "But on a course like this it allows me to hang in there."
There is a four-way tie for thirds that includes last-minute entry Carlos Sainz of Elgin, Ill., Ryan Dillon of Phoenix, Ariz., who has had success on the National Professional Golf Tour, sponsored by Golfweek, Scott Foster, a 39-year-old assistant pro out of Anthem, Ariz., and Garrett Jones, of Rewey, Wis., who finished fourth in 2009 and seventh in 2008 at the GCRO.
"I was playing with (friend and GCRO competitor) Phil Arouca in a tournament back home and he told me he was playing in (the GCRO), so I called to see if there were any spots open and there were. I've been playing pretty well so I figured why not."
Foster, an assistant pro at Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia in Peoria, Ariz., used Thursday's pro-am to learn about the course on his first trip to Hunters.
"We learned a lot yesterday and we hit it in the right spots today," said Foster, talking about himself and caddie Bill Howard, a Fort Madison native. "We birdied the holes we should and made pars on the ones we should. I also hit a few short putts to keep the momentum going so it was a good day."
Defending champ Brock Mulder, who shot a course record 11-under-par 61 in the opening round last year, had a completely different experience this year.
The Waterloo native missed birdie putts inside 6 feet on both of his first two holes, then whacked two out of bounds on Hunter's par-4 third hole, posted a nine, and then double-bogeyed the par-3 fourth hole enroute to a 79.
"I think I was a little shell-shocked," said Mulder after taking his nine. "We've still got one more day. We'll be back."
Three more golfers are at 4-under 68 and eight are tied at 69.
Ryan Blaum, who won $60,000 at the Waterloo Open a week ago, shot a solid 70.
"Those were windy, tough conditions," said Blaum, who wore flashy black and gold pants. "I think I certainly could have gone three to four better. I'm very much in it."
Second-round play is today with a cut following for Sunday's final round.
Don Wojciechowski resides in the Hunters Ridge Golf Course community and plays the course on a regular basis. He's a former sports editor for a suburban Chicago daily newspaper and an avid golf fan.