Jared Howard leads Greater Cedar Rapids Open after day one

Former Cincinnati golfer avoids worst of heat with early tee time

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MARION — It’s been two years since the leader of the TrueNorth Greater Cedar Rapids Open was not named Mark Blakefield or Paul Apyan.

Through the first round of the professional tournament Thursday, Jared Howard led the field with a 7-under 65. Howard, who played collegiately at the University of Cincinnati, led by one stroke over Josh Weem.

The 24-year-old pro teed off at 8 a.m. from the 10th hole, which allowed him to avoid the brutal midafternoon heat, though he did note it was far from a cool morning, which reached a high of 92 in Cedar Rapids with a heat index of 115 degrees. Humidity and wind, blowing north, were also in play at Hunters Ridge Golf Course, and nearly every hole had water coolers or bottles at the tee.

The course, most players said, played well. Balls landed on the green with a thud and did not roll much after impact. This led to long putts for some and short for others.

“I made a lot of putts on the front,” Howard said. “I hit the ball great all day. I just got something going on the back.”

He is three strokes up on the rest of the field, with the exception of Weems, with several players tied for third with a 68 on the day.

Howard said his game was working for him on Thursday, and the course cooperated with him.

“The course played great. It’s in really great shape. The greens were firm and fast, but they were a very makable speed,” Howard said.

2014 champion Mark Blakefield, who teed off at 8:30, shot a 70 for the first round, while still in the red, he said he was disappointed with his first round, and the heat did not help either.

“It was pretty brutal out there,” Blakefield said. “The greens were soft. the pins were pretty easy. It was pretty gettable. I didn’t really make many birdies and just a couple of sloppy bogeys.”

Defending champion Apyan fared better, though Howard’s lead stood when Apyan came in. Apyan shot a three-under 69, and although he said the course played hard with the wind on Thursday, he believes he isn’t out of the tournament yet.

The heat didn’t bother him either, he said. Apyan hails from Chattanooga, Tenn., and he said it reminded him of practicing at home.

“I grew up in this, so I enjoy it,” Apyan said. “I had a bunch of lip outs coming in. I just tried to stay patient because obviously the conditions weren’t easy with the wind, and the course played a lot different from last year.

“I got myself a decent, OK starting round. I’m not out of it by any means, just trying to stay patient going forward.”

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