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Horgan learning to love Belmont

Photograph by Mark TatemScrambling away: Augustus plays out of a fairway bunker on 12th hole during the opening round at Belmont Hills

PH Horgan III has a love-hate relationship with Belmont Hills.

Scene of his two Gosling’s Invitational wins in 2004 and 2006, the man from Newport, Rhode Island was only half-joking when he referred to the golf course as “diabolical” yesterday.

Horgan’s opening round four-under par 66, which left him one shot ahead of the field, included eight birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey on a day when the pin positions were more akin to those of a final round, rather than an opening one.

A shot back are Ed Kirby and perennial challenger Brian McCann, with Marcello Santi, of Italy, alone in fourth after his opening round of 68. Still, only six shots separate the top 16 players, a group that includes Bermuda professionals Dwayne Pearman, Camiko Smith and Daniel Augustus.

The up and down nature of Horgan’s round meant that his 66 could just have easily been 64 or 68. After opening up with a birdie at the par four 1st, he missed makeable birdie putts on the next three holes before draining a 15-foot putt for birdie at 5.

One-under at the turn after a bogey at 7, the American rattled off four birdies in the next five holes to hit five-under before he dropped two shots at 15.

With a 149-yard approach to the green, Horgan backed off on a 6-iron, pulled the ball left, and could not recover from the bad lie he subsequently found himself in. Birdies at 16 and 18 came either side of another bogey, after he missed the green and his par putt lipped out on the par-three 17th.

“I bounced back a couple of times, it was tough out there, this course is always tough and they had the Sunday pin placements,” Horgan said.

“I’m pleased, there were a couple of mistakes, but you’re going to have mistakes out here. It’s a diabolical little course, I tell everyone it’s the hardest, shortest course in the world. I’d like to see how some of the tour players would shape up, I’d like to see the Grand Slam played here.”

Of those chasing, Kirby and McCann are the nearest, and the latter is no stranger to being in this position. McCann has come close to winning on a couple of occasions, this year though he is just happy to be able to swing a club.

A wrist injury sustained moving furniture during Canadian Thanksgiving had him in agony as recently as last week, but painkillers, and an acceptance that he would have play with a certain level of discomfort, had him battle his way round to a three-under 67.

The Canadian hit 16 greens in regulation yesterday, and nine fairways, but it was a lucky break on 6, his 15th hole of the day after starting on 10, that changed the course of his round. Even par standing on the tee, McCann pushed his drive right, towards out of bounds on the dog-leg par four, and thought he had lost the ball. Instead, he found it, and proceeded to birdie three of the last four holes.

“Finding that ball made a huge difference,” said McCann. “I was giving myself opportunities, and I was quite happy, but I could have gone two over at that point. Instead I went birdie, birdie, birdie, the round turned there.”

The only former champion within touching distance of Horgan is Billy Walsh, who shot an even par 70, thanks to two birdies on the back nine, after he reached the turn at two-over.

Kent Fukushima, the defending champion, meanwhile struggled, finishing yesterday with a four-over par 74.

Of the rest of the 84 competitors in the tournament, Donny Jarvis has a one-shot lead over John Rushnell in the senior division, after his opening round 73, and Steven DeCosta leads the amateur field with a one-over par 71.