Tom Gillis, Scott McCarron, Steve Flesch, Jerry Kelly and Darren Clarke talk about the first round of the Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Grand Blanc — Things were ordinary for Tom Gillis on Friday, and that was just fine with him.
Considering how things played out the last time the Lake Orion native played, a bogey-free 66 in the opening round of the Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club was exactly what he needed. A birdie on No. 9, Gillis’ final hole of the day, moved him into a three-way tie for first place with Scott McCarron and Retief Goosen at 6-under.
“It was really self-explanatory,” Gillis said. “There wasn’t a whole lot to it. Just kind of hit it down the middle, made a few putts and didn’t get in much trouble. Stayed out of trouble. Didn’t chunk any wedges like Calgary. It was all good.”
The chunked wedge from Gillis two weeks ago at the Shaw Charity Classic was part of a final-round collapse that saw him go from holding a one-shot lead while standing on the 17th tee during the final round to falling all the way to fourth place. It happened thanks to a bogey on the par-4 17th followed by a double-bogey on the par-5 18th, keeping Gillis from what would have been his first PGA Tour Champions victory.
But Gillis has never been too hard on himself, and instead of allowing the poor finish to linger, he rebounded on Friday by building off the positives from the way he played two weeks ago.
“So much good went on all week,” Gillis said. “You could easily focus on the bad, but I was more encouraged. There were some putts going in and I was more encouraged with that than I was the finish.”
Now Gillis is in a position to play well at a course that’s never been kind to him.
In eight appearances in the Buick Open on the PGA Tour, Gillis made the cut only twice. He finished tied for 53rd in 2002 and was tied for 52nd in 2007. At last year’s inaugural Ally Challenge, Gillis finished in 73rd place after shooting an opening-round 78.
“I’ve never really played great here,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the hometown distraction or what. It feels a little different this year. Just keep focused, keep the game in order it should be fine.”
Gillis will be going toe-to-toe with the Tour’s best when play resumes Saturday morning for the second round.
McCarron has a massive lead in the race for the Charles Schwab Cup and entered this week with 12 top-10 finishes in 19 starts this season. He shot 32 on the back nine and birdied his final two holes playing in the same group as Goosen.
“You're always hoping to go out there and have a good round,” McCarron said. “Conditions were a little bit soft out there from the rain that we had and there were some gusty winds out there. It was difficult to kind of judge distance with some of our iron shots, so it was hard to get it close.
“I watched Retief Goosen play a spectacular round. He hit the ball about 10 feet almost every hole, at least for the first 13, 14 holes. It was very impressive. I kind of just rode his wake in there and was able to make a couple birdies coming in.”
Goosen, in his first season on the PGA Tour Champions, got off to a quick start. He birdied five holes on the front for an outgoing 31 before slowing down on the back nine.
A bogey on 17 left a sour taste Goosen’s mouth headed into Saturday.
“I started off really nice,” Goosen said. “The first five, six holes played into a strong wind this morning and I really hit some really good shots in those first few holes and made a few birdies. I was 4-under through six, so I was off to a great start in tough conditions. After that I had my chances to go really low, missed a few putts, short ones, then obviously very much a mental mistake on No. 17. Hit a bad shot there and caught a poor lie in the bunker and didn't get it up and down.
“So a bit of a disappointing finish, but two rounds to go, top of the leaderboard, right place to be.”
Jerry Kelly, who is second in the Schwab Cup standings, shot a 5-under 67 along with Jerry Smith, Darren Clarke and Jay Haas.
Five more players were two back at 4-under, including former Buick Open champion Woody Austin, World Golf Hall of Famer Bernhard Langer, Steve Flesch, Duffy Waldorf and Stephen Leaney.
“You have to play well in the first round on this tour to kind of have a chance,” said Flesch, who bogeyed his final hole. “You not only have to break par, you usually have to shoot a few under par. So 4-under after the first round, I'm happy with that start. I know that there will be a lot of birdies made the rest of the week, too, so you've just got to keep your foot on the gas and keep going until Sunday afternoon.”
Where: Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, Grand Blanc (7,127 yards, par 72)
Purse: $2 million (winner: $300,000)
TV: Saturday-Sunday, 6-8 p.m., Golf Channel
Defending champion: Paul Broadhurst