Alabama's Wyatt takes U.S. Amateur lead

A manual leaderboard during the 112th U. S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado. Bobby Wyatt posted a first round 64.

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. -- Bobby Wyatt described his opening round at Cherry Hills Country Club Monday in the U.S. Amateur Championship as “pretty vanilla.”

If that was the case then the other 311 players in this year’s starting field better hope Wyatt doesn’t upgrade his flavor taste to something with a lot more punch and zest to it.

With birdies on four of his first five holes, Wyatt charged to the top of the 36-hole, stroke-play qualifying portion of the championship with a 7-under 64 at the more difficult Cherry Hills course.

Fiive players, all starting on the par-71 CommonGround Golf Course and all also playing in the morning, were a stroke back at 65 (5 under). They were first-team All-Americans Justin Thomas of Alabama and Chris Williams of Washington, third-team All-America Max Homa and honorable mention Brandon Hagy of California, and Mexico’s Sebastian Vazquez.

Also in a 5-under 65 and with the best round of the afternoon wave was Zac Blair, a third team All-America at BYU.

Bryson DeChambeau, of Clovis, Calif., shot the second-best score of the day at Cherry Hills, a 4 under 67.

Just as the morning wave was finishing, the wind kicked up its heels and scores were much higher for the afternoon competitors.

“Early, there was no wind and the greens weren’t too firm for the shorter irons,” Wyatt said. “I could get it a little closer. The conditions were definitely a contributor to why I was able to score so well.”

For Wyatt, a junior at Alabama and a third-team All-America last season, it was a continuance of his outstanding summer season and bounce back from his last start, where he missed the 36-hole cut at the Western Amateur.

After winning the Sunnehanna Amateur, Wyatt tied for fifth at the Northeast, was fourth at the Dogwood, second at the Players and second (losing in a playoff) at the Southern.

At the Western he was 5 over after his first seven holes and ended up shooting 4-over 76. He came back with a 69, but his 145 total left him one shot shy of finishing among the top 40 scores and ties.

“I didn’t play well to start (at Western), but played my last 27 holes in 4 under so I wasn’t too upset,” Wyatt said. “It was just one of those things. I still felt good about my game and about my preparation for this week. It just feels good to get things going early here.”

He definitely did that Monday. After a birdie at the first hole and a bogey at the second, Wyatt ran off birdies at 3, 4, 5 and 7 to turn in 4 under. After another birdie at the 11th, the Mobile, Ala.-native finished with a flurry, sinking a 50-foot putt at 17 and a 20-footer at 18 for birdies.

“It really wasn’t anything fancy, pretty vanilla all day,” he said. “I hit the ball well and just played for position on the greens. For the most part I left myself simple putts and fortunately I was able to roll some of them in. I just hope it carries over for the rest of the week.”

Williams, a 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team member and coming off his victory just over a week ago at the Western Amateur, opened with a bogey-free performance. He birdied the first two holes and then added three others at Nos. 7, 12 and 13.

“I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of good shots to the green,” Williams said. “I made some good putts and never got myself into trouble.

“I had never played or even seen the course so I really didn’t know what to expect,” Williams said. “I was only 2 under on the par 5s so I wasn’t too thrilled with that. But I’ll definitely take a 65.”

Thomas, college golf’s player and freshman of the year at Alabama, also did not make a bogey. He made eagle at the par-5, third hole and then birdied Nos. 7, 12 and 18.

“I hit it really well today,” Thomas said. “I played the par 5s in 4 under and I took advantage of my scoring opportunities. I’m going to be pleased anytime I shoot 65. I missed a few putts and had a lot of good lags. The key was the par 5s.”

Hagy played his last 10 holes in 5 under. Starting at No. 10, he birdied the 18th and then caught fire with birdies at Nos. 5, 7, 8 and 9.

Homa was pretty much the opposite. Also starting on the 10th, he notched birdies at 11, 12, 17 and 18. His lone bogey came at No. 6, but he answered with birdies at 7 and 8.

Blair was able to handle the windy conditions as he made birdie at Nos. 3 and 7 and came back with a trio more at holes 12, 15 and 18.

Vazquez, starting on the back nine, made birdies at 15, 17 and 18. He added another at No. 3, but bogeyed the sixth before getting two more birds at 7 and 8.

Gary Nicklaus, 43, with dad Jack and mom Barbara in a large gallery, shot a 1-over 71 at CommonGround in the afternoon. Robert Mize, with dad and former Masters champion Larry on his bag, had a 72 in the afternoon at CommonGround, while Eric Hallberg, with dad Gary watching, shot 4-over 75 at Cherry Hills.

Players will switch courses for their Tuesday second round of stroke play after which the field will be reduced to the low 64 scores for match play, which begins Wednesday. The second and third match play rounds are set for Thursday with the quarterfinals on Friday and the semifinals on Saturday.

The 36-hole championship final is scheduled for Sunday beginning at 8:30 a.m. MDT.

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