MARION — A $30,000 purse and great weather gave the 130-plus professional golfers at Hunter’s Ridge something to smile about Thursday as day 1 of the 21st TrueNorth Greater Cedar Rapids Open began.
Their smiles likely didn’t last long once they realized the large prize money and excellent conditions created a logjam at the top of the leaderboard, with nearly a dozen players within three strokes of leader Johnny Watts, who recorded a pace-setting 64 for 8-under par.
The pair just behind Watts at 7-under are Hunter O’Mahony and first-time visitor to Cedar Rapids, Matt Picanso.
“I’ve played really well all year,” said the 36-year-old Picanso, who didn’t start playing golf until his 20s. “I lost in a playoff at the Reno Open and the winner qualified for the PGA Tour event going on this week.”
Picanso also finished fourth at the California Open and just last week took fifth at the Waterloo Open.
“The golf courses (in the Midwest) are awesome,” Picanso said. “I can see that you guys take pride in your public golf courses. I haven’t played too many private ones, but it’s a different vibe from the public courses in California where it can get pretty rough. They get so many players that they don’t care what the course looks like because people are still going to show up.”
Picanso isn’t the only player who showed up with his game tight this week. Three players sit in fourth place with first round 66s and five more recorded a 67 to sit at 5-under, just three strokes out of the lead.
“It’s easy to shoot 65 when you hit every fairway or green,” Picanso said.
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“When you aren’t doing that, can you shoot 69? That’s how I judge most pros and what I’ve really focused on this year.”
So what will the players need to do to separate themselves?
“I feel like with this course, just from the couple of practice rounds I’ve played, I think you have to take advantage of the holes where you can use your driver. I plan on being aggressive on those holes and then there are a few holes where you have to plot yourself around and make sure you are in a good position. If you happen to steal a stroke, great, if not you make your par and get out of there.”
There will be a cut following Friday’s second round and an awards ceremony following the third round at approximately 3:30 p.m. Saturday.