Knous rolls into the lead at the NTO

Putting puts Mines’ Division II runner-up into the first-day lead

Bradley Condon hits out of the bunker and onto the first green Friday during the first round of the 54-hole Navajo Trail Open at Hillcrest Golf Club. Condon finished with an 81, a difficult 14 shots back of the leader. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Bradley Condon hits out of the bunker and onto the first green Friday during the first round of the 54-hole Navajo Trail Open at Hillcrest Golf Club. Condon finished with an 81, a difficult 14 shots back of the leader.

Not a bad start to a pro career for Jim Knous.

But there’s a ways to go and several notable names hot on his heels.

Knous, a recent Colorado School of Mines graduate and runner-up at this year’s NCAA Division II Men’s Golf National Championships, fired a first-round 67 on Friday to take a one-stroke lead after the first of three rounds at the 51st annual Navajo Trail Open at Hillcrest Golf Club.

It was a strong start to Knous’ first pro tournament, and only a double-bogey on the back nine kept him from going even lower. Still, other than the one bad shot that led to the big number, Knous obviously was pleased with the way he played, particularly the way he was able to putt on Hillcrest’s quick greens. He also added an eagle on hole No. 10.

“I was hitting the ball really well on the front nine, gave myself a lot of looks at birdie, which you need to do because the greens are hard, and you know you’re not going to make all the putts,” Knous said.

“It was really my putter on the last few holes ... I just wasn’t hitting it all that great on the last few holes, but I kept giving myself par chances.”

Pulling away, however, may be a tall order, given who’s lined up right behind him. Defending champ Micah Rudosky, last year’s runner-up Brad Besler and former Durango High School and Fort Lewis College golfer Devin Schreiner all shot 3-under 68s.

Besler, who was unable to hold off a Rudosky rally in his first NTO last year, was happy to get off to a quality start to put himself in contention yet again. He had five birdies and a pair of bogeys.

“Just playing here and having some experience and success, it helps you going to those rounds knowing you can score low out here,” he said.

Sitting at 2 under and two shots off the lead is another talented bunch. Former champions Luke Tanner and Bobby Kalinowski, Ricky Romano – who nearly aced the tricky par-three ninth with an eight iron – and Kane Webber all carded 69s.

Webber said he managed to get under par despite not being totally pleased with his driver, although he hit 15 fairways. His comfort level with the greens in his third Navajo Trail Open helped on a day where the strong putters moved to the top of the leaderboard.

“Hopefully (today) I can drive it a little better and give myself a couple more chances to score (low),” said the Australian-born Webber.

Getting off to a good start with the flat stick was a big confidence boost to Knous, as well.

“That’s the trick to this course. You’ve got to putt well, and being the first day, when you putt well the first day it gives you a lot of confidence going into the next two days,” the Day 1 leader and Basalt High School alumnus said.

The pros at 1-under 70 are Scott Gates, Klinton Krieger, former champion Mike Northern and Ron Faria, who holed out from nearly 60 yards for eagle on the par-four second. Joining that quartet are two amateurs of local interest: FLC alumnus Gavin Lyons and Montezuma-Cortez High School standout Jakob Rudosky, son of the defending champion, both are in the hunt after carding 70s.

The group at even par includes three-time champion Tom Kalinowski, former FLC golfer Jeremy Lederer, former MCHS golfer Shea Sena and Farmington professional Jeff Roth, who finished tied for 15th at last year’s U.S. Senior Open.

rowens@durangoherald.com