VIENNA — Playing a par-73 course featuring six par-5 holes and with greens softened by overnight rains, Wednesday was a day to go low as the 86th West Virginia Open got underway at Parkersburg Country Club.
And when it comes to going low at the State Open, nobody has been better over the last decade and a half than David Bradshaw.
So it was again as Bradshaw birdied all six par 5s and tallied a 7-under 66 to grab the first-round lead by a stroke over Huntington’s Josef Dransfeld.
Bradshaw recorded nine birdies, offset by a double-bogey at the par-4 eighth hole, and it has the Bakerton native in prime shape to chase his 11th West Virginia Open crown and a fourth in a row.
“I drove the ball well, put myself in good position on the par 5s,” Bradshaw said. “That’s what this golf course is — you just hit it straight off the tee on the par 5s. Five of them are pretty reachable and one is not. And I putted well. I kind of had everything clicking today.”
Early in the week, Bradshaw raved about the speed and smoothness of the greens, but rains took some of the teeth away from the putting surfaces and Bradshaw said there was no hesitation in firing right at the flag on every hole.
“It’s target golf, you just point and shoot,” Bradshaw said. “Even if you short-side yourself a bit the greens are so soft and they’re not fast enough to where it can get away from you too much, so you can be very aggressive.”
Behind Bradshaw are several others that went low, including Dransfeld, a Cabell Midland product who just finished his freshman season at Elon. Dransfeld used eagles at the par-5 sixth and 18th holes to buoy his round, making just one bogey at the eighth hole in coming in with a 67.
Dransfeld, like several of the field’s younger players, is quite comfortable at Parkersburg Country Club, where the West Virginia Golf Association’s Junior Match Play Championship has been played 12 times, including the last five. The Callaway Junior Tour also makes a stop in Vienna once a year and there is also a big early-season high school event here.
Dransfeld was a runner-up in the Junior Match Play to Mason Williams in 2016 and believes that familiarity will only help over the next two days.
“I feel comfortable on this course, I’ve played pretty well here throughout the years,” Dransfeld said. “The green speeds were perfect for me today and the rough isn’t bad right now and the fairways are in good shape. It’s definitely not going to be the course’s fault for the winner. I definitely think experience here will help me the next couple days.”
Dunbar’s Winston Canada, a former player at Oak Hill High School and Campbell University, is in third after shooting a 5-under 68 as part of the first grouping to tee off on No. 10. He agreed somewhat with Bradshaw’s assessment of the greens, but pointed out there’s still plenty of speed in them to cause problems.
“Honestly, [Tuesday] I played a practice round and it was fairly soft then,” Winston said. “The greens didn’t soften too bad, they’re still a little firm. The rain obviously helps a little bit when it comes to approach shots.”
For a short time, Bradshaw, Dransfeld and Canada all shared the lead at 5 under with Craig Berner, the pro at Edgewood Country Club and the 2005 West Virginia Open champion.
Berner settled with a 3-under 70, still plenty good enough to stay in contention. That score puts him in a tie for fifth place with Scott Depot’s Chris Williams, who birdied four of his final five holes to finish strong.
For Berner, just getting back to the State Open was an accomplishment in and of itself. He missed the 2018 West Virginia Open with back spasms, but said all systems are go after Wednesday’s solid opener.
“Without a doubt, I got up this morning and went downstairs and did some treadmill action and I was ready at five o’clock this morning,” Berner said. “I was ready to go.
“Last year I had no chance. I couldn’t even walk from 10 feet away, my back was spasming and it was just no good. I wasn’t going to go up there and shoot 80. That’s no fun.”
Berner used a hot stretch in the middle of his round to overcome a shaky start. He bogeyed the second and fifth holes to sit at 2 over, but birdied six, seven, nine, 10, 11 and 13 to rocket his way up the leader board and get right back in the hunt.
As a former champion, Berner knows as well as anyone about how much can change over the next 36 holes and is also aware of what Bradshaw has done and is capable of doing in the event. But he also likes his positioning heading into the final two days.
“I left a few out there, but 3 under is really good,” Berner said. “I’d have taken that before I showed up today without a doubt, especially after the start I got off to.
“I don’t know what David shot and don’t really care. He’s going to do his thing and everybody kind of does their own thing. We’ve got two days left. It’s one of those things where first day you don’t want to shoot yourself out of contention and you want to be right there and be able to compete with two days to go.”
Maxwell Sear, who recently graduated from WVU, shot 4-under 69 to take sole possession of fourth place. A total of 11 players shot under par on Wednesday with only three – Williams (3 under), Wheeling’s Thadd Obecny (1 under) and Ravenswood’s Alex Easthom (1 under) — coming in the afternoon wave of players.
Kermit’s Davey Jude and Hurricane’s Sam O’Dell, each considered to be contenders heading into the State Open, struggled a bit in Wednesday’s round, shooting 1-over 74 and 2-over 75, respectively.
A cut will come at the end of Thursday’s second round with the top 60 and ties advancing to play in Friday’s final round.