If you’re looking for a local favorite this week at the Fry’s Electronics Open, look no further than Scottsdale’s Michael Allen — a horse for a course.
In two of the past three years, Allen has captured the Tommy Bahama-Desert Marlin, a preseason event that is held in early January at Grayhawk Golf Club — on the same Raptor Course being used this week for the Fry’s Electronics Open.
“Am I the local favorite?” the good-natured Allen mused. “Well, I don’t know about that because we’ve got so many good local players in this tournament.
“But I probably am the leading money winner around here, at least the last few years. ... I love the Raptor Course at Grayhawk.”
It showed during Thursday’s opening round of this Fall Series event, as Allen, who lives just 10 minutes from the course, broke from the starting gate with a solid 7-under-par 63. His fast start, which included an eagle at the 15th hole, where he holed out from a greenside bunker, gave him a two-shot lead over Rich Beem, Frank Lickliter and Nick Watney.
Out of that trio, Watney had the wildest round as he rolled in 11 birdies, which tied a PGA Tour best for 2007. But the third-year pro from Las Vegas also made a quadruple-bogey 8 along with a couple of bogeys that kept him from breaking from the pack.
The rest of the leaderboard also was loaded with locals, as players such as Pat Perez (66), Arron Oberholser (67), Andrew Buckle (67), Billy Mayfair (68), Jeff Quinney (68), Tom Lehman (69), Ted Purdy (69) and FBR Open champ Aaron Baddeley (69) were all in red numbers.
An announced crowd of 6,100 watched the opening round — about 4,000 less than organizers expected Thursday.
Phil Mickelson, the highest-ranked player in the 132-man field at No. 2, could do no better than 71. Blame it on three errant drives into the desert, two of which led to bogeys.
“I felt like I played better than I scored,” said Mickelson, whose four bogeys were offset by three birdies. “I didn’t drive it terribly, but two or three loose swings cost me.
“I didn’t putt well, but a bunch of them were right over the edge (of the cup). So, overall, I think (today) is going to be a good day.”
Among the other notables, John Daly and three-time FBR Open champ Mark Calcavecchia also shot 71. Another shot back was David Duval, who recently returned to the PGA Tour after taking some time off to be with his family.
Brandel Chamblee, the broadcaster from The Golf Channel who is playing on a sponsor’s exemption and also lives in Scottsdale, could do no better than 73.
Local knowledge played a major role in Round 1, and chances are it will continue to be the case. No one seemed to be more “educated” than Allen.
“I think, obviously, the key was that little stretch there of 14 through 16,” said Allen, who made a birdie from 18 inches at No. 14, holed the bunker shot for eagle 2 at No. 15, and then chipped in from about 30 feet for another birdie at No. 16.
“Obviously, I was in great shape after that.”
Actually, Allen has been in “great shape” ever since he finished second last month at the Turning Stone Resort Championship, which vaulted him from No. 153 on the money list to No. 84. That virtually assured him of avoiding his record 14th trip to PGA Tour qualifying school.
Asked the difference between that week, when he was grinding for his livelihood, and this week, when he knows he’ll be back next year, Allen sighed.
“I was focused like it was Tour (qualifying) school,” he said of the solo second that was worth $648,000. “This week, that’s kind of the good and the evil, I guess. I’m trying to turn that over (grinding like Q-School) and make that part of my game out here, too.”
The 48-year-old Allen said it would mean “everything” to get his first PGA Tour victory this week in his hometown and basically erase 20 years of frustration.
“I had 20, 30, 40 friends out there yelling, and that’s always really nice,” he said. “You don’t get that very often, so when you get things going, it’s nice to have some fun.”