If the PGA Tour’s motto is, "These guys are good,’’ then the Nationwide Tour’s must be "Who are these guys?"
Such a questionable credo certainly would have held up Thursday during the opening round of the Gila River Classic.
Or as one woman asked her husband upon seeing Johnson Wagner at the top of the leader board at Whirlwind Golf Club near Chandler: "I think they’ve got his name turned around.’’
Turns out, they didn’t. Wagner, a Texan-turned-New Yorker playing his first season on the Nationwide, said Johnson actually is his middle name, as well as his mother’s maiden name. Still. . . .
"If you want my (first name), you can have it,’’ he said.
Obviously, Wagner was happier about shooting a career-best, 8-under 64 than he was about being named Montford. Nine birdies to offset a three-putt bogey will do that for you.
"It was the first round out here (on the Nationwide) that I’ve made a lot of 15- to 20-foot putts,’’ Wagner said of the binge that gave him a one-shot lead over Ben Bates and Tripp Isenhour. "I love these greens. They’re perfect.’’
Which was more than you could say about the weather, as thunder clouds and lightning rolled in late in the afternoon and halted play at 5:15. The 33 players left on the course when play was suspended will complete their rounds this morning, with the second round still scheduled to start on time at 6:45 a.m.
The Cattail Course at Whirlwind was expected to play a little tougher than the Devil’s Claw track, which had been used the first two years of the tournament. But the new 7,240-yard layout still gave up red numbers to 62 players in the 144-man field.
ON THE FRINGE: One shot off the lead, Ben Bates credited Native American tradition for his 7-under 64. "This morning (before the first round) the Chief was out here blessing the golf course, so I had my caddie take my putter to him to bless it,’’ said Bates, who holed eight birdies against a lone bogey. "I made everything. Needless to say, he’ll have to come back and do the same thing (today).’’
Zach Johnson, the first player to surpass $400,000 in winnings in the history of the Nationwide and a two-time winner this season, nearly scored a double-eagle 2 on the 560-yard 17th hole. Launching a 5-wood from 248 yards out, his ball flew directly into the cup and then ricocheted 30 feet out.
"I thought, that could be pretty good, and all of a sudden, ‘What the hell?’ " mused Johnson, who shot 70. "It hit with such force, we had to get a ruling to see if we could repair the cup. The right side was blown out.’’
This will be Jeff Quinney’s last stop before Q-School later this month. The former Arizona State All-American has played in eight Nationwide and two PGA Tour events, and if he needs to use the medical exemption he has been granted for next season, 10 tournaments is the limit. Quinney’s season has been hampered by a herniated disk.
"I just woke up one morning and had this numbness in my right leg,’’ said Quinney, who could do no better than 73. "But I’ve had a few good finishes lately, my body is getting stronger, and my confidence is coming back.’’ Either way, he’s got a place to play in 2004.
Gila River Classic
What: Nationwide Tour event
When: Through Sunday
Where: Whirlwind Golf Club, Cattail Course (7,240 yards, par 72), near Chandler
TV: The Golf Channel (Today, 2-4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2-4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2-4:30 p.m.)