E.A. Sports Today

Tie at the top

Cole, McGatha lead Etowah Open after opening-round 63s in Calhoun County Tour’s newest event

Ty Cole putts from the fringe on the 16th green during Saturday’s opening round of the Etowah Open.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

GLENCOE – The Etowah Open rolled into the Calhoun County Golf Tour for the first time this season in a win-win situation for both organizations.

The tournament, one of the oldest in Etowah County, got an influx of players to strengthen its already traditionally strong field and the Tour added even more players to its rolls. It’s a true melding of two strong county golf communities.

At the end of the day Saturday it was two Calhoun County Tour regulars sitting atop the 83-player leaderboard and four were among the seven Championship Flight players who posted red numbers.

County Tour points leader Ty Cole and Tour No. 3 Jeremy McGatha had the best of it, grabbing the first-round lead after posting bogey-free 8-under-par 63s at the Links at Briarmeade.

Shawn Ledbetter is in third after a 68. Zack Contris and Tour No. 5 Brennan Clay are at 69. Tour No. 2 Gary Wigington and Chad Hare are at 70. Three of the four players in the final group Sunday are Calhoun County Tour regulars.

“I think it says a lot about the strength of our county and our County Tour,” McGatha said.

“I’ve told (McGatha) a thousand times I would take our group of County Tour guys and play any county in the state,” said Clay, the fourth player in the final group. “Take eight of our guys, we’re pretty strong.”

For McGatha it was only his second appearance in the Etowah Open; he played in the final group two years ago.

Briarmeade was Cole’s home course when he moved back from Georgia and he’s won the Etowah Open three times since 2009, as recently as 2017. But he’ll tell you it took him two years to learn the secrets of playing it well.

“I don’t hit the ball near as far as Ty or (10-time champion) Scott (Smith) and I have to try to hang in there with my accuracy and my wedges and my short game and my putting; I did it today,” McGatha said. “You know Ty bombs it over that water (on 14) and has pitching wedge in; I lay up with a 7-iron and hit a 3-wood up through there. The percentages are with him, not me.”

McGatha got around in 23 putts. He started birdie-eagle, holing out from 80 yards on No. 2. He turned in 4-under, then made four straight birdies – tap-ins on 13 and 14, a big swinger from off the back of the green on 15 and a 10-footer on 16.

“On 10, 11 and 12 I hit the ball steady, where I needed to I hit it on the green and I missed the putts,” McGatha said. “I told Brennan if I can’t make these putts I’m not going to catch Ty, I’m not, and I’m going to sit here and shoot 3- or 4-under and still get lapped.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had a bogey-free round in one of these (County Tour events). I’m happy with it. I just hope I can hang in there tomorrow.”

Cole fixed a little set-up flaw in his swing that impacted his play in last week’s Sunny King Charity Classic. He turned in 30 and was 7-under through 12 holes. He parred the par-5 14th with sand wedge into the green and missing an 18-inch birdie putt in a stretch of four straight pars, but birdied 17 to get to 8-under.

“It could have been stupid (good),” he said. “I came out here one day after work and told my wife I figured something out why I was hitting it bad. I told her If that’s it and I make some putts, this is what I’ll do. Other than those two tee balls (on 13 and 16) that pretty much eliminated birdie, I hit it pretty damned good today.”

A win Sunday would give him his fourth Tour win of the season, 17th all-time and a sweep of the two Etowah County events for the second time in three years. A win by McGatha would produce the tournament’s fourth different winner in four years.

NOTES: There are 83 players in the field … Briarmeade gives the County Tour two events in Etowah County. “I’m glad to add them,” McGatha said. “Next year will be the 50th anniversary of this event, there’s a lot of history and you know how I am about history” … It was the third time this Tour season Cole has shot 64 or better. For McGatha it was his second round in the 60s this season. It was his best round since a 6-under 66 in the opening round of last year’s Cane Creek Invitational

Jeremy McGatha putts for par on the 17th green Saturday. The par ended a string of four straight birdies that got him to 8-under for the day.

Etowah Open

At the Links at Briarmeade
First-round scores

Championship A
Ty Cole 63
Jeremy McGatha 63
Shawn Ledbetter 68
Brennan Clay 69
Zack Contris 69
Gary Wigington 70
Chad Hare 70
Brian Baugh 71
Chris Cox 71
Devin Downs 71
Scott Smith 72

Championship B
Sam Bone 72
Mark Spurlock 72
Chad Reavis 72
Mason Dennis 72
Tee Brown 72
Chris Leonhardt 72
Brad Connor 73
Clay Calkins 74
Frank Brady 74
Brock McNeely 74
Drew Anderton 74
Jeff McRae 74

Championship C
Blake Grisham 75
Chad Calvert 75
Justin Graveman 75
Andrew Brooks 75
Matt Rogers 76
Harrison Hughston 76
Neal Keener 76
Bumper Jones 77
Michael Rich 76
Kyle Rosenbauer 78
Stanley Hawkins 78

Championship D
Jake Ball 80
Cole Contris 80
Trent Ralston 81
Chris Holderfield 81
Greg Hare 82
Eric Hoskins 82
Casey Harmon 82
Scott Medders 83
Kevin Lipscomb 83
Justin Graham 85
Andrew Lang 89
Blake Lipscomb 99
Trevor Hamilton 111
Randy Lipscomb DQ

First flight
Brad Baird 69
Doug Gardner 70
Wesley Watkins 73
Ron McClellan 73
Frank Barnes 73
Larry Gilchrist 75
Greg Davenport 75
Chuck Medders 75
Mike Estes 75
Craig Colvard 76
Wayne Downey 76
Jay Shields 77

Second flight
Phillip Eades 78
Craig Graves 78
Chris Sanford 79
Justin Wood 79
Gary Hopper 80
Wayne Ball 80
Dustin Underwood 81
Derek Epperson 81
Lee Vinson 81
Jason Shields 82
Jamie Betterton 82
Richard Johnson 82

Third flight
Kenny Fulmer 83
Josh Colvard 83
Blake Erwin 83
Dale Owens 84
Dani Bone 85
George Morris 86
Paul Allen 86
Frankie Leath 88
Casey Downs 88
Kelly Rogers 93
Gary Singleton 104

8 a.m. – Gary Singleton, Kelly Rogers, Frankie Leath, Casey Downs
8:10 – Dale Owens, Danny Bone, Paul Allen, George Morris
8:20 – Kenny Fulmer, Josh Colvard, Blake Erwin
8:40 – Jason Shields, Lee Vinson, Jamie Betterton, Richard Johnson
8:50 – Wayne Ball, Gary Hopper, Derek Epperson, Dustin Underwood
9:00 – Chris Sanford, Justin Wood, Craig Graves, Phillip Eades
9:20 – Jay Shields, Craig Colvard, Wayne Downey, Mike Estes
9:30 – Larry Gilchrist, Greg Davenport, Chuck Medders, Frank Barnes
9:40 – Wesley Watkins, Ron McClellan, Doug Gardner, Brad Baird
10:00 – Trevor Hamilton, Blake Lipscomb, Andrew Lang, Justin Graham
10:15 — Scott Medders, Eric Hoskins, Kevin Lipscomb, Casey Harmon
10:30 – Greg Hare, Trent Ralston, Chris Holderfield, Cole Contris
11:00 – Jake Ball, Kyle Rosenbaugh, Stanley Hawkins, Bumper Jones
11:15 – Matt Rogers, Neal Keener, Harrison Hughston, Michael Rich
11:30 – Blake Grisham, Justin Graveman, Chad Calvert, Andrew Brooks
Noon – Drew Anderton, Brock McNeely, Jeff McRae, Frank Brady
12:15 p.m. – Clay Calkins, Brad Conner, Chris Leonhardt, Tee Brown
12:30 – Chad Reavis, Mark Spurlock, Sam Bone, Mason Dennis
1:00 – Scott Smith, Chris Cox, Devin Downs
1:15 – Brian Baugh, Gary Wigington, Chad Hare, Zack Contris
1:30 – Brennan Clay, Shawn Ledbetter, Ty Cole, Jeremy McGatha

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