CALGARY, Alberta—Will Barnett had the putter working in the opening round of the ATB Financial Classic. The Australian birdied eight holes at the Country Hills Golf Club’S Talons Course to take a one-stroke lead over Kimberley, British Columbia’s Jared du Toit and Craig Stefureak of Caledonia, Ontario.
“Everything seemed to be working today,” said Barnett, who shot 32 on both the front and back nines. “I drove the ball really well. I think I only missed one fairway today. I hit the ball well; made some putts. I had a three-putt on No. 8, but that’s golf, it happens. Apart from that, there wasn’t anything to be upset about in my round. It was awesome.”
Playing in his first event this season north of the border, du Toit, who was born in Calgary, did not disappoint in his return home. After making par on the first six holes, the 26-year-old birdied six of the next 11 to finish with a 6-under round of 65.
“I somehow stole a birdie on (No.) seven,” said du Toit of the birdie putt that got things going for him. “I really shouldn’t have made birdie on seven. I made a nice putt and then had some good momentum going. I hit great shots basically the rest of the way in. I just played really solid from eight on in.”
It was a return to form for du Toit after finishing 66th on the Forme Tour points list this summer, a circuit that concluded its season last week.
“All of those places and golf courses were brand new to me,” said du Toit. “I struggled a bit right off the hop. It wasn’t a terrible year. I did a lot of good things, but I didn’t have any of the results that I wanted. Coming back here and being familiar with Country Hills and Calgary, it feels good to be home.”
Stefureak is also one shot off the lead after recording five birdies and an eagle, on No. 13.
“I’ve been working really hard on my putting,” said Stefureak. “Getting that going has been a big thing for me this year. I finally made a few putts today. The ball-striking was really good like it’s been all year, but the putting started coming together today.”
Brendan Leonard of Cambridge, Ontario, is alone in fourth after shooting a 5-under round of 67. He currently sits in second place in the overall points standings after his tie for seventh last week at the Elk Ridge Open.
Red Deer, Alberta’s Chandler McDowell is also enjoying playing in his home province despite some cool morning temperatures resulting in a 30-minute frost delay. McDowell tallied four birdies and an eagle, shooting a 4-under round of 67. He’s tied for fifth with Calgary’s Wes Heffernan and Thomas Code of Dorchester, Ontario.
“It was pretty important to stay warm and loose out there,” said McDowell. “I putted pretty well all day. I struggled with tee shots early in the round. I think I was little chilly, and then I got the flow of the round going and it was pretty smooth sailing from there.”
Playing on a sponsor’s exemption and competing in just her second tournament as a pro, Calgary’s Katy Rutherford shot a 7-over round of 79, but the Country Hills Golf Club member stayed positive throughout the round especially with the support of the hometown crowd.
“I hope I’m breaking down some barriers out here being the only female in the event,” said the 22-year-old. “It just means a lot to me. I know that the people out here are great, there’s a big support system and it makes my heart full.”
Officials suspended play due to darkness, with 11 players set to finish their opening rounds Friday morning.
- Thirty-eight players finished under par, with 24 players shooting rounds in the 60s. Fifteen players shot under par in the opening round.
- Three of the top-seven players on the leaderboard were born in Alberta.
- This is Jared du Toit’s 2021 Mackenzie Tour debut, but he’s no stranger to PGA TOUR-affiliated Tour golf. This is the fifth Tour he has played on this season. On the PGA TOUR, du Toit missed the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open in January. He made one cut in his two Korn Ferry Tour appearances, tying for 46th at the Lincoln Land Championship. On PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, after winning the Qualifying Tournament in Mexico back in early 2020, he ended up making five starts, getting to the weekend twice, good for a 114th-place Points List finish. On the just-completed Forme Tour, where du Toit finished second at the Qualifying Tournament in suburban Tacoma, Washington, and went on to play in all eight tournaments, du Toit finished 66th on the Points List, counting a tie for 19th at the season-opening L&J Golf Championship as his top performance.
- Australian Will Barnett played collegiate golf in the United States, at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California. During his final year at the community college, Barnett won two individual titles in a three-week span, taking the 2019 SoCal Intercollegiate in San Diego and then winning the Tim Tierney Pioneer Shootout.
- Since the Mackenzie Tour’s inception, in 2013, Wes Heffernan has made 26 career Tour appearances, with his best outing a runner-up performance at this event in 2017 at Country Hills Golf Club. Heffernan shot rounds of 65-71-66-68 that week to tie for second with South Korea’s Todd Baek, a shot behind winner Chase Wright.
- Calgary native Wes Heffernan is a six-time winner of the Alberta Open, capturing back-to-back-to-back titles, starting in 2006 and adding consecutive triumphs in 2011 and 2012 and one more win, in 2018. Prior to the Mackenzie Tour, the 44-year-old Heffernan won four Canadian Tour titles between 2006 and 2008.
- With his opening 68 Thursday, Blair Bursey is right near his first-round average. In his five previous first rounds this season, the former Utah Valley University golfer turned in scores of 66, 67, 72, 72 and 67. His opening-round scoring average is 68.66.
- Last week’s winner of the Elk Ridge Open, Raoul Menard, got off to a slow start Thursday, firing a 1-over 72. He’s tied for 50th.
- Current points leader, amateur Noah Steele of Kingston, Ontario, is tied for eighth, at 3-under. Steele is also the low amateur of the 14 in the field. The other amateurs under-par through the first round are Brendan MacDougall and Kyle Mossfeldt, both at 1-under.
- Thirteen players are within four shots of the lead.
- The top-five players on the final Points List will earn 2022 PGA TOUR Canada membership. First place on the Points List will receive fully exempt status for the 2022 PGA TOUR Canada season, while those in the second-through-fifth positions will earn exempt status up until the first reshuffle based on player performance.
“It’s really nice out there. It’s a good test of golf.” –Chandler McDowell
“It was amazing. I love the fact that so many came out to support me today. It was really cool to see all the good wishes I was getting. It was people sending me text messages, it was people coming out here. Pressure is a privilege, right? I felt like I responded well, and I had quite a big gallery going down the back nine today, and it was great. I felt like that kind of atmosphere, I really vibed off of it and it made me play better.” –Katy Rutherford
“I was struggling last week with the ball-striking, and I’m starting to feel a lot more confident over the golf ball. After a day like today, my confidence is pretty high.” –Will Barnett
“When the wind gets up, it can get pretty interesting, hitting into some of these bowls, and some of these greens. It’s a really fun golf course and I’m excited to play the next three rounds.” –Craig Stefureak
Cool and partly cloudy. Frost delayed play by 30 minutes. High of 15. Wind W at 17 kph. Gusts in the afternoon reached 35 kph.