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Grand start for Brand

Chip Ellis
Edgewood pro Craig Berner shot a 67 Wednesday, one stroke behind leader Christian Brand.
Christian Brand has learned one thing in his first days as a pro golfer: Go low or go home.In a broiling first round at the West Virginia Open, he went low.Brand shot a 5-under-par 66 Wednesday to take the lead in the 54-hole event at Edgewood Country Club in Sissonville. The 2011 West Virginia Amateur champion leads Craig Berner, Edgewood's head pro, and Hurricane dentist Sam O'Dell by a single shot.The Capital High and Marshall graduate finished strong, even with a finishing bogey on No. 9 (he teed off on No. 10). He had four birdies on that par-34 front nine, giving him the field's only 31.Brand started his day with a workmanlike 35 on the par-37 back nine, with seven pars and birdies on the par-5 16th and 18th."You've got to learn to shoot low numbers and make birdies. I'm getting a lot closer," Brand said. "There are a lot of things I would like to fix about my round, but there were a lot of positive things that I'll look on for [today]."Berner, the 2005 champion, overcame a 70-yard top on his first tee shot, salvaging the first of his 13 pars. He was paired with 2001 champ Jonathan Clark, and both agreed the grouping benefitted each other.Even if it didn't, there wasn't a dull moment. "It's easier to focus with him," Berner said of Clark. "We like to talk trash with each other. It was easy. We had a good time."Berner finished his round with a 12-foot birdie putt, downhill off the fringe. Like Brand, he was 3 under on Edgewood's four par 5s, three of them situated in the final five holes.O'Dell was the low scorer of those unfortunate to start in the afternoon. Those 60 players trudged through a full round of the heat, which came without an iota of wind.Tied for second at the 2011 State Am and the fifth-best amateur at last year's Open, O'Dell ground out his 67 despite the heat and other adversity."I didn't drive the ball well at all today, to be honest," he said. "But it seemed when I got up around the greens, every time I got it up and down. I putted really well today.
"It's the most I've gotten out of a round in a long time. Normally, I would have thrown up a 73."Clark might have joined the top three, but his double bogey on the par-3 10th had him settling for a 68. A small army joined him at that number - Todd Westfall of Clendenin, three-time champ Scott Davis, Marshall golfer Brian Anania and Kenneth Hess of Parkersburg.
Another Capital High and Marshall graduate, Bosten Miller, joined Mason's Trent Roush at 69. Miller's round could have been better as well, but he three-putted the last two par 5s, denying him birdies on the 16th and the 18th."I three-putted No. 2 as well," Brand said. "The greens probably slowed down a little bit this afternoon. It was a grind because it was so hot, maybe the hottest round of golf we've played."David Bradshaw, winner of six of the last eight State Opens, tied with 2011 runner-up Bob Friend at 70. The Jefferson County native was 2 under at the turn but spun his wheels on the back nine."It was just sloppy. I hit the ball wayward [on approaches, chips], [though] I drove the ball really well, except on 18," he said. "I just didn't take advantage on the scoring holes."Besides the par 5s, I played the golf course in 1 under, which is terrible considering we have some really tough par 3s out here. The par 5s, you've got to go 4 or 5 under, and I didn't do that. ... I played some practice rounds out here. I think the first two days out here, I was maybe 9 or 10 under on them."The course may have been at its easiest Wednesday, with greens still drying out from two isolated downpours that hit the course on Monday.
"I've said all along, 6 or 7 under is a winning score," Berner said. "I still believe that, so I'm going to come back [today] and try to do it again and see what happens."I think the greens are going to keep getting faster. They're still a little sticky, but the rough's up. I'd take 7 under right now and not even show up the last few days."
  • BRIEFLY: Five-time champ Brad Westfall shot a 4-over 75. Other former champions: John Ross 71, Harold Payne 75 and Barry Fleming 81. ... Jess Ferrell, the 2011 State Amateur runner-up who won an exemption to the 2012 Greenbrier Classic, played with Clark and Berner, coping well enough to shoot a 74.
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