John Mallinger John Mallinger, Doug LaBelle share first-round lead in Open in Scottsdale

John Mallinger and Doug LaBelle each shot 7-under-par 63 Thursday to share the lead after the opening round of the Open.

Nice starts, yes, but both players said they'll have to continue going low to be in the hunt on Sunday at the 7,125-yard Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. Especially if the conditions remain near perfect with little wind and temperatures in the low 80s.

Such is the case for many of the PGA Tour Fall Series events.

"It's going to be a shootout," Mallinger told reporters. "You take last week, I think I was 22 under and didn't win the golf tournament. You're going to have to make a lot of birdies these last tournaments. That's just the way it is, the way the course is set up, but I'm okay with that.

LaBelle agreed.

"Certainly, I think these golf courses are a little bit more susceptible to some birdies - more so than like Wachovia and some of the more difficult golf courses," he told reporters when asked about the layouts hosting the Fall Series. "These courses might be slightly on the easier side, but it's fun to make a lot of birdies, and we know we're going to have to make some if we want to have a chance to win."

Mallinger and LaBelle lead Richard Johnson, who shot 6-under 64, by one stroke. Chris Stroud, Mathias Gronberg, Arron Oberholser, Marco Dawson, J.J. Henry and Todd Dempson are all tied for fourth at 5-under 65.

A total of 68 players posted sub-par rounds on Thursday with the scoring average coming in at 70. Oberholser, Kevin Streelman, Chad Collins and Charlie Wi all had bogey-free rounds.

In just his second year on Tour, Mallinger's career has been highlighted by two third-place finishes (AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and last week's Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open). He also has top-10 finishes at the Honda Classic (tied for seventh) and the Memorial Tournament (tied for 10th).

Mallinger was near-perfect off the tees and into the greens Thursday, hitting 12 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation. Coming into the week, Mallinger ranked 184th in greens in regulation, hitting just over 60 percent of the greens.

Mallinger said continuing to putt well will be the key to his success.

"Putting is going to be huge out here," Mallinger said. "It's tough because some of the putts come off the mound, you get some speed, and there are some tricky little breaks out here."

LaBelle, who earned a spot in the field as an alternate, recorded birdies on three of his last four holes Thursday. Partially exempt in 2008 because of his 138th-place finish on the 2007 money list, the second-year player's lone top-10 finish came in his first event of the season and the Sony Open in Hawaii, where he tied for 10th.

Coming into this week's tournament, LaBelle said he hadn't played this well since he was in a five-way tie for the lead halfway through this year's FBR Open, which was played just down the road from Grayhawk. He ranks No. 171 on the PGA Tour money list and is striving to get inside the top 125, which would earn him exempt status.

"It's been kind of a rough year," LaBelle told reporters. "I got off to a good start early the first two and a half weeks of the year and I putted and chipped very well, and my long game wasn't quite there, and it still hasn't been there. But my chipping and putting, when it shows up, really keeps me afloat."

That was the case for LaBelle in round one. He hit 14 of 18 greens and needed just 25 putts in his opening round.

"It's just nice to hit some good shots and make some putts and shoot a nice score, LaBelle said. "It's been a long time since I've done that."

October 24, 2008

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