Wichita Open leader conquers long weather delay

No matter how disjointed the first June start in Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open history seemed at times Thursday thanks to Kansas’ wacky weather, Roger Tambellini managed to roll with it.

Taking advantage of the calmer segment of the Nationwide Tour event’s opening day, the 36-year-old Tambellini fired a 7-under-par 64 to grab the early lead in the $600,000 tournament at Crestview Country Club’s North course.

Tambellini, a Scottdale, Ariz., resident, sandwiched eight birdies and one bogey around a four-hour delay caused by lightning and heavy rain that rolled through the area Thursday morning. He finished the day with a one-stroke lead over Matt Davidson, who was one of 69 golfers still on the course when play was suspended by darkness at 8:33 p.m.

Others who will return at 7 a.m. today to finish the first round include PGA Tour veteran and Derby resident Woody Austin, who was 2 under through 13 holes. The second round will begin at 8.

Tambellini, meanwhile, reached the first tee at 8 a.m. Thursday and walked off the 18th green about 5 p.m. with an extended lunch in between. By then, benign morning conditions had given way to a gusty, southerly breeze that blew steadily at 25-30 mph.

“In the end, it turned out all right,” said Tambellini, a three-time Nationwide winner who started his round with four consecutive birdies. “It was windy out there and it took a long time to do it, but it was worth it.”

Wichita Open tournament director Roy Turner hoped the tournament’s calendar switch from the dog days of summer would put Mother Nature on his side. Instead, her unpredictability surfaced three hours into the tournament, dumping 1¾ inches of rain onto the course.

None of it slowed Tambellini, who played on the PGA Tour a year ago. He made his only bogey of the day with a three-putt at the 495-yard, par-4 sixth before the delay.

Tambellini’s only scare after the delay came when he nearly pulled his tee shot out of bounds at the par-5 14th. It was in “by a whisker,” Tambellini said, and he went on to make one of his three back-nine birdies.

Davidson, who grabbed the first-round lead with a 63 last year in his Wichita Open debut, got off to another hot start Thursday. He started his round with a 31 on Crestview’s back nine, then birdied the par-5 second to get to 6 under as darkness settled in at Crestview.

That put him one shot ahead of a quartet of morning wave golfers that included Australian Mathew Goggin, the tour’s leading money winner this season, and 2006 Wichita Open champion Kevin Johnson. Left-hander B.J. Staten, who reached 6 under before the delay, and PGA Tour winner Peter Lonard of Australia also shot 66.

“I played really well,” said Goggin, who was in the final Sunday pairing with Tom Watson at the British Open two summers ago. “I sort of left a few out there, but I played well. . . . I started off hitting the ball really nicely, so that was encouraging.”

For Johnson, one of four competitors this week who played in the first Wichita Open 22 years ago, it was a welcome occurrence. He has made the cut in just two of seven starts this year.

“I’m trying to downplay it, but I’m really excited,” Johnson said. “At least today I hit some shots that resembled a professional, I’ll put it that way.”

Tambellini, whose last victory came at the 2009 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic, is 103rd in tour earnings this season. His score matched the best opening rounds of his career.

“It was clicking today, and hopefully, it’ll click the rest of the week,” Tambellini said.

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