MANCHESTER — Mack Duke, an Alabama pro who has spent a lot of time in Maine, led an assault on par in the first round of the Maine Open on Monday at the Augusta Country Club.
Duke, 25, made seven birdies and two bogeys in shooting a 5-under par 65.
Four golfers were tied at 66 while another five were two shots back at 67. In all, 36 golfers broke par compared to nine in the first round last year at Augusta.
Duke moved to Maine at age 12 and attended high school at Proctor Academy in New Hampshire.
He turned pro in 2010 and this summer he’s playing out of Samoset Resort in Rockport.
He took a measured approach to his opening round, using irons on many of the tees.
“Now that I’ve played here a handful of times, I know where to hit it,” Duke said.
“The holes where you hit 3-iron and give yourself an opportunity to make four. Really the key is to keep it in play off the tee. You want to be on the green in the middle below the hole. That’s my strategy.”
Four pros were tied at 66, including Ted Brown from Glen Allen, Va.; Jon McLean of Weston, Fla.; Evan Harmeling of Andover, Mass.; and Canadian Max Gilbert. Defending champion Dustin Cone of Port Saint Lucie, Fla., shot himself out of contention in the opening round with a 78, which induced a triple bogey on the par-5 18th hole. Cone also won the Maine Open in 2010.
Jason Gall, an Augusta Country Club member, was among the group at 67 and low amateur. Jace Pearson, the teaching pro at Martindale in Auburn, and former champ Geoff Sisk of Marshfield, Mass., also shot 67. Augusta member Sean Goggin of West Gardiner shot 68 as did Waterville’s Chris Hamel. Despite an unforgiving rough, the players mastered the short track that measures just 6,214 yards.
“It was a little more difficult last year,” said Jimmy Lytle, who lost to Cone in a playoff. “The greens were a little faster which I hope they are tomorrow.”
Lytle, who was born in Brighton, Mass., shot 68 along with 12 others. Last year’s loss fueled his desire to return.
“I always want to win no matter where it was but I remember how bad I felt last year,” he said.
Mainers in contention include former amateur Andrew Slattery of Minot and Bangor native and pro Jesse Speirs.
“It was ideal scoring conditions,” Speirs said. “But it was just kind of tough if you miss it in the wrong spot.”
Former Maine Amateur champion Seth Sweet of Madison, who struggled in the opening round of this year’s amateur at Augusta, shot 69 as did Falmouth’s Scott Sirois and Augusta member Thomas Bean. Cape Elizabeth pro Shawn Warrenshot even par 70 as did Gorham’s Jerry DiPhilippo. Both are former Maine Open champions.
Mark Plummer, a 13-time Maine Amateur champ and course record holder at Augusta with 60, shot 73.
“I had four sandies, otherwise I’d have been pressing 80,” Plummer said. “Not pretty.”
All but a few amateurs who were cut return for the final round Tuesday. Leaders are expected to go off the first hole in the second wave of tee times around noon. The total purse is estimated at about $51,000 with $10,000 going to the winner.
Kennebec Journal’s Gary Hawkins can be contacted at 621-5638 or at firstname.lastname@example.org