LUMBERTON — Keith McGirt isn’t a regular at the golf course, but he played like one during the first round of the Robeson County Golf Championships at Pinecrest Country Club on Friday.
McGirt finished the round in a three-way tie with Ryan Bass and Stephen Pippin for first place in the Championship Division after carding a 6-under 66.
“I don’t get to play a lot of golf,” McGirt said. “I get to practice by going out to the driving range, but this is my fourth or fifth round of the year. Got to be pleased to go and shoot a score like that.”
Former champions Bass and Pippin both played well on the back nine to secure their spots atop the leaderboard, while Greg Powell finished close behind with a 69.
Bass said he entered the day with confidence after a strong practice round on Thursday.
“I was nervous on the first tee box and birdied the hole,” Bass said. “The par-3s killed me on the front. I made the putts all day long, but the par-3s killed me. When I got to 10, it’s like I flipped the switch. I just started making everything.”
Bass carded four birdies on the front nine and five birdies on the back nine.
“All together, I felt confident with my round,” Bass said. “My putting is what did it for me today. I hit the ball good but I made a bunch of putts.”
Unlike Bass, Pippin said his practice rounds caused him to feel uncertain about his game heading into the tournament.
“All of the sudden I made about a 10-footer for par on 1, and then hit the hole on 2 for birdie,” Pippin said. “I felt good about my putting, and then from there I just let the round evolve.
“I probably scored about the best I could score. In golf sometimes you hit the ball better than you score. I believe I maximized my scoring today.”
Several other past champions were in the 22-man field as well. Nine-time champion Kyle Covington carded a 1-over 73, finishing the round in a tie for fourth place with Jeff Wishart. Five-time champion Dyrck Fanning finished two strokes behind Wishart and one stroke behind Joseph Martin with a 3-over 75.
Defending champion Brad Locklear also shot a 75 and found himself near the middle of the pack.
The golfers played through mild humidity while the temperature hovered in the low 80s. Dwight Gane, the head professional at Pinecrest said it was probably the best weather he’s ever seen at the tournament, which is in its 37th year.
The temperature is expected to touch the 90s with rain potentially coming to the area when the tournament continues on Saturday, but the top three golfers are ready to get back on the course regardless.
“I’d like to keep the momentum going,” Bass said. “Not make any big mistakes. There’s going to be bogeys out there. That’s just my game. I might have a lot of birdies, but I will have some bogeys. I’m just trying to eliminate as many bogeys as I can.”
The group of Haskins, McGirt and Chad Martin will be the first players from the Championship Division to tee off in the second round on Saturday with an 11:04 a.m. start. Also playing on Saturday will be the Ladies, Regular, Seniors and Super Seniors Divisions.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.