Grand Blanc — As Esteban Toledo waited to make his run at a birdie on No. 18 Friday afternoon in the first round the Ally Challenge, he told his caddie how he was going to celebrate if the putt dropped.
And why not celebrate. After all, Toledo was at least 60 feet away from the hole, so running in a birdie of that length is worth having some fun.
“I told my caddie, ‘If I make this putt I'm going to throw a left hook,’” Toledo said with a smile. “So, it was the right time.”
As the putt dropped to give Toledo a first-round, 6-under 66 to sit one shot off the lead at the inaugural Champions Tour event at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club, the former boxer slapped his left bicep and fired off a few punches in the air, much to the delight of the crowd around the 18th green.
Putting together a few more combinations over the next couple of days is the goal.
“I'm just happy to be here, to be honest with you,” Toledo said. “I can't wait for tomorrow, can't wait for Sunday. I think the spectators are going to have a heck of a time, the sponsors. I mean, everybody's going to have a good time, so can't wait for tomorrow and Sunday.”
Toledo might be the happiest golfer on Tour. He’s had quite the journey throughout his career, playing on the PGA Tour in 1994 and again from 1998-2004. In between and after his time on the main Tour, Toledo had several stints on the Nationwide Tour, now the Web.com Tour.
Esteban Toledo was one of three golfers to shoot a 6-under 66 in the first round of the Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
He never won on the PGA Tour, but his best finish happened to be at the 2002 Buick Open. He started the final round that year on shot behind Tiger Woods. After shooting 68-67-67 in the first three rounds, Toledo struggled with a 73 on Sunday and ended four back of the unflappable Woods.
That week was on his mind Friday.
“I got a lot of great memories,” Toledo said. “I think it was one of those greatest moments that I ever played with Tiger coming down the stretch on Sunday. I guess if I were to shoot 66, I probably would have beat him, but I ended up short. But I learned a lot. I think to play with the best players in the world at the time, I learned a lot. I think all the crowd was — they're happy, the fans were happy, the tournament was happy, the charities were happy, and I think that's what it's all about.”
Toledo has four wins on the Champions Tour, his last coming in 2016. He hopes he gets another shot on a Sunday at Warwick Hills.
“What's going to happen the next two days, I don't know, but I enjoy my time, my day,” Toledo said. “And the fans, they're incredible. Coming down the stretch on 17, 18, doesn't get better than that.”
Foul day on fairway
It wasn’t a great day for a pair of local golfers.
Lake Orion’s Tom Gillis, who has finished in a tie for third in his only two starts this season on the Champions Tour, shot 6-over 78 in the first round. Gillis entered the tournament 55th on the Tour’s money list with the goal of cracking the top 54, which gives him exempt status next season.
Tom Werkmeister, the Warren native who now resides in Grandville on the west side of the state, got to 2-under early in his round but finished even par with a 72.
The ever-popular John Daly teed off around 12:20 p.m. on Friday, but just a couple hours later, he was packing his things.
The two-time major winner and crowd favorite withdrew from the tournament because of what Tour officials said was a neck and shoulder injury. Daly was 5-over after eight holes but withdrew after hitting his tee shot on No. 9
After Thursday’s pro-am, Daly talked about being physically limited, though didn’t mention any issues with his neck or shoulders.
“The knees are OK,” he said, “I'm just fighting sciatica right now.”
Bart Bryant also withdrew after playing four holes.
The Ally Challenge
When: Through Sunday
Where: Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, Grand Blanc
Purse: $2 million (winner: $300,000)
TV: Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m. each day
Tom Lehman shot a 5-under 67 and sits two shots off the lead after the first round of the Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News