Mike Rowley joked with San Luis Obispo native Loren Roberts, saying he wanted to win some “chump change” from him at the San Luis Obispo Country Club on Saturday.
But after the first round of the Straight Down Fall Classic, both will need some help to win and claim the $25,000 top prize.
Tim Fleming and Alan Bratton lead a wide-open field with an 8-under 63 that includes seven teams within three strokes of the lead.
Rowley and his partner, Atascadero High graduate and 2010 PGA Tour cardholder Roger Tambellini, are six shots off the lead after shooting a 69.
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“Tomorrow we’re going to have to come out and have a good start,” Rowley said. “We need to get some of our mojo back. We came out and bogeyed the first hole and didn’t have any early momentum.”
The three-time champions battled back with good play through the middle of the course, peaking at 5-under before a rough stretch to end the day.
The back nine proved to be the undoing of a number of teams Saturday, including Tambellini and Rowley.
Fighting a gusting wind that made play tough, Tambellini hit a shot short that found the water on the par-3 14th hole.
They would double bogey the hole and couldn’t find the momentum the rest of the way.
“That double on 14 really hurt us,” Rowley said. “We made kind of a big mistake there.”
But they weren’t the only team to struggle on the back nine.
PGA Tour veteran Edward Loar and partner Jeff Seibert looked to be running away with the tournament early. After jumping out to a 10-under start in a tournament that several players predicted could be won with a 15-under, Loar and Seibert came back to the field on the back nine, eventually finishing with a 5-under 66 and a tie for second place.
Roberts and partner Ed Cuff shot a 67, leaving them within striking distance of the lead heading into the final round. The duo also struggled on the back nine, and Roberts lamented that the course could quickly turn the tide on players.
“(The back nine) starts with some easily reachable par-5s that you can birdie,” Roberts explained. “But if you don’t birdie those, all of a sudden you’re in tough shape.”
But Roberts, who won the PGA Champions Tour points standings season title, said he was just happy to be back in town regardless of how he finishes today.
“It’s just great to be back in San Luis,” Roberts said. “I kind of grew up on this golf course. I was the assistant here and got on the tour and left from here. This is home to me.”
Roberts said he enjoyed the atmosphere of playing among friends and family, including Helen Hollister, who was instrumental in sponsoring him when he left San Luis Obispo for the PGA Tour nearly 30 years ago.
Rowley and Tambellini are one of several notable teams in contention including the teams of former Cal Poly golfer and 2005 Big West Conference champion Travis Bertoni (69), two-time Ryder cup member Steve Spate (67) and Champions Tour member Scott Simpson (69).
Nationwide and PGA Tour veteran Jeff Brehaut and his partner tied for second after shooting a 67.
But with so many players within striking distance, anything can happen in today’s final round.
“This is a good field,” Roberts said. “But we’re just going to come out here and have fun and see what happens.”