It’s crowded at the top of Navajo Trail

Isaiah Branch-Boyle/Durango Herald

Defending Navajo Trail Open champion Jim Knous found the first round in 2013 tough sledding, firing a 75 on Friday at Hillcrest Golf Club to sit eight shots behind leader Alex Estrada.

By Ryan Owens Herald staff writer

A little bit of trickiness, if not the feared outright speed, to the greens and a sporadic bout of afternoon winds kept anyone from breaking free from the pack in the first round of the Navajo Trail Open on Friday at Hillcrest Golf Club.

Twenty golfers are within four shots of leader Alex Estrada, who shot a 3-under 68 to pace the field on a day that boasted a boatload of steady if not record-breaking scores.

Zahkai Brown is alone in second place after firing a 69, while Tom Kalinowski, Andrew Moore, Jeff Roth, Jimmy Gunn and Ryan Hogue fired matching 1-under 70s.

Also shooting 70 was amateur Charlie Laudermilk, who led the way for an impressive first-round showing by a contingent of current and former Fort Lewis College golfers. Devin Schreiner shot an even-par 71, as did Gavin Lyons, who had a chip for birdie lip out on the par-three ninth hole, his final hole of the day. Justin Lyons and Bryan Schlichter shot 72 and 73, respectively, to give FLC five golfers within five shots of the leader.

A group of nine golfers shot 71, including former Navajo Trail Open champions and tournament veterans Bobby Kalinowski and Micah Rudosky.

Given the conditions, Tom Kalinowski said he would be a bit surprised if 68 remained the low number as scores continued to roll in. But the low number it remained.

“I’d be happy if 68 was leading,” he said. “I was expecting somebody to shoot 66 or 65, so it just means that you’re not as far back as you thought you were going to be.”

Friday’s round was a nice start for Estrada, who’s first experience with Hillcrest came during Thursday’s Pro-Am. After shooting 1 over on the front nine, he rebounded with birdies on both par 5s and both par 3s on the back nine, including a chip in from just behind the green on the par-3 12th.

“I talked to my buddy Keenan (Holt), and he said it’s fairly wide open off the tee, but the greens will get you,” Estrada said. “So we really – my sister (Arrianna) and I, she’s out there caddying for me – we really tried to really focus on the greens and making sure I had an approach shot to the fairway, if possible, to these greens.”

Estrada’s length on the par 5s worked to his advantage, as well. The former University of New Mexico golfer also relished the opportunity to use his wedges on some of the shorter par 3s.

“I feel it goes further for me up here. On the par 5s I was able to, for the most part, reach them,” he said.

Defending champion Jim Knous shot a 75 to fall eight shots off the pace, as did 2010 champion Keenan Holt.

Despite a score that put him squarely in contention, Tom Kalinowski felt as though he left a few opportunities on the course, be it because of missed putts or other missed opportunities. But after taking a look at the leaderboard, he surmised he wasn’t the only one.

“I didn’t get much out of the round. I played better than I scored, I guess,” he said. “But I think the way it looks from the scoreboard, I think a lot of people probably did the same thing. I think it was probably a little hard to get the ball in the hole. ... When the wind blows up here, it’s always hard to get the ball in the hole.”

The professional flight returns to the course today at 7:54 a.m.

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