WEDDINGTON Maybe a little bit of The King’s success rubbed off on Charlotte’s Jason Kokrak.
Kokrak shot a 6-under 66 Thursday at The Club at Longview to share the clubhouse lead during a suspended opening round at the Chiquita Classic.
Kokrak overcame back-to-back bogeys with eight birdies to forge a five-way tie with Russell Henley of Macon, Ga., Skip Kendall of Milwaukee, Will Wilcox of Birmingham, Ala., and Scott Dunlap of Pittsburgh.
“I got off to a solid start,” said Kokrak, who recently relocated from Ohio. “If I can eliminate the bogeys the next couple of days, I think I can do some damage this weekend.”
If Kokrak does win his second Web.com Tour event – the first came during 2011 in Boise, Idaho, helping to earn him a full-season PGA Tour exemption – the fifth-year touring pro can thank NASCAR legend Richard Petty.
Kokrak gave Petty, the tournament’s honorary chairman and nicknamed The King, a putting lesson before teeing off – and having to wait through a 90-minute delay because of heavy morning fog.
“He must have rubbed off on me, because I putted really well today,” said Kokrak, who made 26 putts and hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation.
Kokrak wasn’t the only front-runner putting well – Henley also had eight birdies and two bogeys, Kendall overcame a double-bogey on No. 6 with eight birdies, Wilcox had seven birdies (including a run of six in a row) and a bogey, and Dunlap had an error-free round with six birdies.
“I finally found something in my swing last week, and I made a putter switch,” said Wilcox, who slid a 10-foot putt just past the hole on No. 9 that would have given him the outright lead. “I was rolling it really good. I made some good putts, and I finally got the swing I want to play.”
Seven players are tied at 5-under 67 – Doug LaBelle II, Troy Merritt, Brad Fritsch, Dawie van der Walt, Tom Hoge, Mark Anderson and James Sacheck – and 12 others were at 4-under 68, including Longview resident and PGA Tour veteran Robert Karlsson.
“It’s fun to play on your own course and sleep in your own bed at night,” said Karlsson, who overcame four bogeys with six birdies and an eagle 3 on the par-5 No. 4. “I missed a few chances and had a few three-putts … but all in all, it was a good day.”
When play was called for darkness, 31 players were in the clubhouse within three shots of the lead and 17 others were on the course with a chance at cracking the leader board.
Among them was eight-time PGA Tour winner Lee Janzen, who also was at 6 under through 16 holes; and three others at 5 under: Brazil’s Alexandre Rocha, Rob Oppenheim of Salem, Mass., and Justin Bolli of Portland, Ore.