SANDY — Charley Hoffman didn't exactly come to Utah on a tear this week, having missed three straight cuts on the Nationwide Tour over the past month.
But the 28-year-old from Las Vegas got his game together enough over the last few days to emerge with the first-round lead at the Envirocare Utah Classic Thursday at Willow Creek Country Club.
Hoffman fired a 6-under par 66 to take sole possession of the lead over a logjam of nine golfers at 67, including his UNLV college teammate Jeremy Anderson and one-time PGA Tour winner Garrett Willis. Others at 67 include Dave Christensen, Nick Cassini, Greg Kraft, Michael Clark II, Rich Barcelo, Jerry Smith and P.H. Horgan III.
Another four golfers shot 68, while 10 came in with scores of 69, including Sandy's Todd Tanner. A two-round total of even- or one-under par will likely be needed after today's second round because 84 golfers shot par or better and only the top 60 and ties make the 36-hole cut.
Hoffman may look like a bit of a free spirit with his long blond hair flowing out of his golf cap, but he was serious about his golf Thursday.
Coming into the tournament, Hoffman stood No. 20 on the money list, which is the cutoff point for player to graduate to the PGA Tour next year. With a good payday this week, Hoffman can help solidify his position on the money list.
"I feel good about everything," he said. "I hit it pretty solid all day I didn't hit it that bad last week, but it was a tight course. This course is tight, but you can still hit it."
Hoffman got off to a quick start by draining a 45-foot putt at the par-5 first hole and added a birdie at No. 9. He added birds at the par-5 10th and 12th holes, before making his only costly mistake of the day with a tee shot into the trees at 14, resulting in a bogey. He finished off his round with birdies at 15 and 17 and just lipped out a birdie try at 18.
"I got lucky with the cloud cover all day," he said. "The greens are getting firmer, no question."
Hoffman played in the morning as did seven of the players who shot 67. The only two who didn't were Smith and Horgan, who should have a bit of an advantage today with early tee times.
The new changes to the course didn't seem to affect the scores with more than half the field shooting par or better.
However, the Utah golfers in the tournament had their share of struggles in the first round and only a couple of players look likely to make today's cut.
Tanner, the former Utah State golfer, shot a solid 69 and stands in a tie for 15th place with nine other golfers. Utah Open champion Nick McKinlay of St. George is right on the cutline after shooting an even-par 72, along with Logan's Brett Wayment.
Former BYU player and PGA regular Rick Fehr shot a 74 as did Sandy's Luke Swilor. PGA Tour veteran Jay Don Blake of St. George, could only manage a 77, while Ogden's Jimmy Blair shot a 78.
Sandy's Steve Schneiter and West Bountiful's Scott Hailes came in with 79s, while Salt Lake pro Kury Reynolds had the worst score of the day, an 83, thanks to a triple-bogey at No. 16 and a quadruple bogey at No. 17.
Tanner parred his first nine holes, then heated up on the back side with birdies at 10, 12 and 13. He bogeyed No. 16, but finished off with a birdie at No. 18.
McKinlay was 2-over with three holes to play, but made birdies at No. 7 and No. 9 to get back to even.
CLASSIC NOTES: Quadruple bogeys were popular as Blair had one at the No. 1 hole and Brent Schwarzrock made one at the No. 4 hole in addition to Reynolds' at 17. At the time Schwarzrock was tied for the lead at 6-under par, but it dropped him back to 2-under, where he finished with a 70 . . . Troy Matteson, the leading money-winner on the Nationwide Tour, is likely to miss the cut after shooting a 78 . . . Bubba Watson, the longest driver on the Tour, only managed a 75 in the first round . . . Cassini's uncle is the famous fashion designer Oleg Cassini. His father, Igor, was a professional tennis player . . . Don Donatello, who finished second in the Golf Channel's BigBreak II and received a sponsor's exemption, shot a 73 . . . Schneiter, a co-first round leader last year, stands in a tie for 152nd after his 79.