PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Fresno resident Conrad Nilmeier grabbed the lead, leaving a pack of big names in pursuit.
Nilmeier, a member of San Joaquin Country Club, shot to the top of the leaderboard in Monday’s first round of the annual NCGA Senior Championship at par-72 Spyglass Hill with a solid 2-under 70. Among the names within four strokes of the lead, however, include four-time NCGA Player of the Year Casey Boyns, two-time NCGA Senior Championship winner Jeff Burda and four-time defending NCGA Senior Player of the Year Jim Knoll.
At least for a day, it was the 52-year-old Nilmeier, who reached match play at last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, who was the one in charge.
The Fresno resident started his round slowly, posting a front-nine 1-over 37 after carding a double-bogey on the par-3 5th. But on his back-nine Nilmeier warmed up, carding a stellar 3-under 33.
Included in his run were a birdie on No.11, back-to-back birdies on holes No.14 and No.15 and another birdie on the par-4 17th. Even with a bogey on the 16th, he’d play his final 11 holes at 3-under.
Just a stroke behind the leader following matching rounds of 1-under 71 are Woodbridge Golf and Country Club member Mitch Harrison and the always-threatening Boyns.
Harrison, who finished second at the Antioch City Two-Man Best-Ball in November, also made his move on the Spyglass back-nine. Starting his day on the 10th hole, Harrison quickly got to 2-under with birdies on holes No.11 and No.12. A bogey on the 16th and a birdie on the 17th left the 56-year-old with a front-nine 34. A back-nine 37 featured eight straight pars and a bogey on the 9th.
For Boyns, it was nearly déjà vu. A year after posting a 6-over 42 on his front-nine during the first round, the California Golf Hall of Famer opened with a front-nine 38. The longtime Pebble Beach Golf Links caddie righted the ship after making the turn though, posting a 33 with five birdies and two bogeys.
The NCGA Senior Championship is the only championship missing from Boyns’ NCGA portfolio. Last year, the now 59-year-old Boyns finished tied for second place.
Burda, who won the championship in 2008 and 2010 and would join Jim McMurtrey, Cornelius Bertolone and Kai Thomsen as the only three-time winners of the event with a victory, is just two behind Nilmeier after an opening 72. The 2008 Senior Player of the Year was hot out of the gates, quickly getting to 3-under with three straight birdies on holes No.3 through No.5. Following the outburst, he’d play his last 13 holes at 3-over.
At three strokes off the lead are Serrano CC member Mark Morgan and Terry Foreman, who each opened with 73’s. Foreman has reached the finals of the NCGA Senior Amateur Match Play Championship each of the last three years, winning the title in 2012.
Others in the mix include Knoll, Dale Bouguennec and Joey Ferrari. Knoll, who won the championship last year after opening with a first round leading 71 and Bouguennec, who won the AmateurGolf.com Senior Wine Country Cup in January, are tied with Dan Boone and Greg O’Malley at 74.
Ferrari, who returned to golf with a victory at last year’s NCGA Senior Valley Amateur, is among six players tied for 11th at 75.
The winner of the NCGA Senior Championship will receive 500 points in the standings for Senior Player of the Year. Mark Miller, who entered the event holding the No.1 spot, opened with a 77.
Jim Ono, a Super Senior, pulled off the shot of the day, holing out for eagle on the par-4 9th from 180 yards out.
Tuesday’s final round will tee off 7:30 a.m. off holes No.1 and No.10.
View results for NCGA Senior Golf Championship (Northern California)