SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.(AP) The shootout is on in the desert.
Doug LaBelle II and John Mallinger shot 7-under 63s on Thursday to share the first-round lead in what promises to be a flurry of birdies at the Frys.com Open.
“It’s fun to make a lot of birdies,” said LaBelle, who lives in north Phoenix, a 10-minute drive from the tournament. “We know we’re going to have to make some to have a chance to win.”
Richard Johnson, the 2007 Nationwide Tour earnings leader who has struggled in his first PGA Tour season, was one shot back at 64.
Aaron Oberholser was among six players to shoot 65s under ideal conditions – cloudless and temperatures in the mid-80s, on the 7,125-yard Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club in north Scottsdale.
Oberholser, winner of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two years ago, is in his second tournament after recovering from two surgeries on his left wrist in a span nine months.
“I don’t know if this is going to give me great confidence,” he said, “but it’s definitely building in that direction.”
Chris Stroud, Mathias Gronberg, J.J. Henry, Marco Dawson and Todd Demsey also opened with 65s.
Defending champion Mike Weir shot a 66. Last year in the inaugural event, the Canadian star won his first tour title since February 2004, beating Australia’s Mark Hensby by a stroke.
The Frys event, with a first prize of $900,000, features players scrambling to move up on the rankings, many of them trying to secure a tour card for next season.
The Fall Series is an opportunity for them to gather confidence as well as money.
“There’s a lot of players out here that have a ton of ability, a lot more than me,” Stroud said, “and if you can just get your mind in the right position, and know what you’re doing every day, you can do pretty much anything, I believe.
Mallinger, in his second season on the tour, has five career third-place finishes, including two third-place ties this year. The most recent was last week at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas. He ranks 64th on this year’s money list.
Playing the back nine first with an afternoon tee time, he made the turn at 5-under 30. He finished with eight birdies and one bogey.
“It’s going to be a shootout,” he said. “You take last week, I think I was 22 under and I didn’t win the golf tournament. You have to make a lot of birdies these last tournaments.”
Playing the back nine first, LaBelle had birdies on three of the last four holes to move in to a tie for the lead just as darkness fell. He said he hadn’t played this well since he was in a five-way tie for the lead halfway through this year’s FBR Open, held just down the road from Grayhawk. He’s 171st on the money list.
“It’s just nice to hit some good shots, make some putts and shoot a nice score,” LaBelle said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.”
Johnson, in the first group to tee off at 6:45 a.m., ranks 204th on the PGA Tour money list. His best finish was tied for 27th Oct. 5 at the Turning Stone Resort Championship, the second of the tour’s seven fall series events.
He was a two-time champion last year on the Nationwide Tour, earning $445,421. In 28 PGA events this year, he’s won $188,324.
“It hasn’t been a good year for me,” Johnson said. “I don’t know, I’m fighting myself a lot out there. I get yelled at by my couch who was just saying this week `You’re on the Tour, enjoy it!”’