On a day when Schenectady Municipal Golf Course played about as tough as it possibly could, Chad Stoffer was the curve buster.
Stoffer, who has been the tournament runner-up twice before, posted the only sub-par round of the day and shot a one-under-par 71 to grab the first-round lead in the rain-shortened Gazette County Amateur Golf Championship Saturday.
Three players — defending champion Ben Bates, left-hander Greg Stopera and three-time champion Rob Bigley Jr. — are tied for second with 73s, while looming another shot back are five-time titlist Paul Pratico and Jerry Brescia.
With rain and saturated conditions washing out the first round on Friday, the tournament was shortened to 36 holes. Forty-three players made the cut at 83 or better, the highest cut in recent memory, but one player, Dave Nicholson with a 75, pulled out of today’s final round because of an ankle injury.
The course played exceptionally long because of the soggy conditions. Throw in many tricky pins and gusting winds during the afternoon, and the Muny layout played like an angry bear. Stoffer, though, enjoyed his role as the hunter.
“It was wet and windy by the time we played the back side,” said the 41-year-old Stoffer, who birdied the second, ninth and 16th holes. He bogeyed just two holes, including a three-putt on the par-3 17th. His other miscue was on the long, par-5 14th hole, when his second shot got caught up in the trees and he had to punch out.
“I hit the ball well from tee to green. I was down the middle most of the day,” said Stoffer. “It was a decent, solid round.
“I remember finishing second twice to Jim Mueller in this tournament. Maybe this is my time.”
Bates, a 31-year-old member of Mohawk Golf Club, romped to a seven-shot victory a year ago, and he was 11-under-par for the three-day event. His opening round Saturday wasn’t nearly as efficient.
“There were some tough pins today,” said the former New York State Junior Amateur champion. “I had it going there for a while. I was two-under-par through 14, and then I started to play a little conservative. I missed a three-foot par putt on the 15th hole, and then I hit my tee shot into the hazard on the 16th hole.
“It was a very tough day with a lot of wind.”
Bates, a multiple Mohawk Member-Guest champion, birdied the second, fifth, seventh and ninth holes. His other bogeys included the first and 18th holes.
Stopera, 30, was a mild surprise being so high on the leaderboard, but the Edison Club member is comfortable with his position.
“I’ve been in the top 10 in this tournament a couple of times,” he said. “I’m surprised that the scores were so high. I’m just going to go out and play my game [today]. My plan is to make a lot of pars and, hopefully, get a few birdies mixed in.”
Stopera birdied the second and ninth holes. He gave up shots on the fourth, sixth and 16th.
“I just made the best of the tough conditions,” he said. “If I missed the green, I just tried to get up and down. I thought the course was in good shape considering all the rain we had. The greens were rolling very true.”
Bigley, whose length off the tee was a tremendous asset with the course being so wet, birdied the second, eighth, ninth and 10th holes. He double-bogeyed the 16th hole and also had bogeys on the 13th and 15th holes.
“The course was in good shape, but the pins were challenging,” said the Pinehaven CC member.
Pratico was his usual steady self with two birdies and four bogeys.
“I had two three-putts, including one where I just lost my focus, but I played pretty steady today,” he said. “All the pins were in tough spots today. I just tried to be careful.”
The same was true for Brescia, who refused to force his approach shots too close to the flag.
“I didn’t shoot at the pins today,” he said. “I played OK, but I didn’t make a lot of birdies. I missed just two greens today, but I couldn’t get anything close. They were fair pins, but they were all on the corners.”
Brescia had only one birdie and three bogeys.
“I’ll try to play smart [today],” he said. “There are going to be a lot of people close to the lead.”
Former winner Tom Salmon (77), three-time champion Ed Chylinski (78), five-time winner Rob Bigley Sr. (79) and seven-time titlist Mueller (80) also made the cut.
Made the cut — Chad Stoffer 71, Ben Bates 73, Greg Stopera 73, Rob Bigley Jr. 73, Jerry Brescia 74, Paul Pratico 74, Aaron Simone 75, Dave Nicholson 75 (injured), Todd Czepiel 75, Chris Gilbert 76, Jim Gardy 76, Lance Hope 76, Brandon Haase 77, Jack Stopera 77, Steve Mango 77, Tom Salmon 77, Ed Chylinski 78, Mike Drake 78, Jim Follain 79, Rob Bigley Sr. 79, Tony Cristello 79, Frank Manell 80, Jay Taub 80, Jim Mueller 80, Joe Cimmino 80, Kenny Hall 80, Nicholas Longo 80, Alex Olbrych 81, Andy Bennett 81, Chris Pierpont 81, Glenn Stopera 81, Mike Mina 81, Jay Singh 82, Mario Marino 82, Mark Compton 82, Patrick Woodfield 82, Paul Carnivale 82, George Hillenbrandt 83, Josh Powers 83, Kevin Dwyer 83, Kyle Adams 83, Peter Andrikopoulos 83, Seth Adams 83.
Failed to make the cut — Bob Cooper 84, Harry Morgan 85, Mike Bayus 85, Randy Bird 85, Dave Sutphen 86, Woody Winslow 86, Bill Moll 87, Dave DeMarco 87, Kevin Betzwieser 87, Kevin Schlansker 87, Mike Pollock 87, Todd Trepess 87, Mike Daley 88, Mike Dwyer 88, Bill Sweet 89, Brandon Alois 89, Connor Adams 89, Craig Schoonmaker 89, Frank DeGraw 89, Mike Stopera 89, Tim Lewandowski 89, Toby Harding 89, Tom Kenneally 89, Chris Stopera 90, Jeremy Youngs 90, Larry Edwards 90, Neil Golub 90, Derrick Brown 91, Mike DiGiloramo 91, Ross Lackey 91, Richard Florkiewicz 93, Gary Slater 94, Carl Gilbert 95, Allen Cromer 96, Ryan Gallagher 97, Don Dobbs 98, Nicholas Kearns 100, Brian Daley NC, Rit Cimmino NC, Robert Alheim NC, Fred Luna WD, Don Blaha WD, Jim Fazio WD, Matt Panneton WD, Mike Lucey WD.
6:30 — Seth Adams, Kyle Adams, Peter Andripoulos. 6:40 — Kevin Dwyer, Josh Powers, George Hillenbrandt. 6:50 — Paul Carnivale, Patrick Woodfield, Mark Compton. 7:00 — Mario Marino, Jay Singh, Mike Mina. 7:10 — Glenn Stopera, Chris Pierpont, Andy Bennett. 7:20 — Alex Olbrych, Nicholas Longo, Kenny Hall. 7:30 — Joe Cimmino, Jim Mueller, Jay Taub. 7:40 — Frank Manell, Tony Cristello, Rob Bigley Sr. 7:50 — Jim Follain, Mike Drake, Ed Chylinski. 8:00 — Tom Salmon, Steve Mango, Jack Stopera. 8:10 — Brandon Haase, Lance Hope, Jim Gardy. 8:20 — Carl Gilbert, Todd Czepiel, Aaron Simone. 8:30 — Rob Bigley Jr., Paul Pratico, Jerry Brescia. 8:40 — Greg Stopera, Ben Bates, Chad Stoffer.