Sep 20, 2021
CALGARY, Alberta—Will Barnett had the putter working in the opening round of the ATB Financial Classic. The Australian birdied eight holes at the Country Hills Golf Club’S Talons Course to take a one-stroke lead over Kimberley, British Columbia’s Jared du Toit and Craig Stefureak of Caledonia, Ontario.
“Everything seemed to be working today,” said Barnett, who shot 32 on both the front and back nines. “I drove the ball really well. I think I only missed one fairway today. I hit the ball well; made some putts. I had a three-putt on No. 8, but that’s golf, it happens. Apart from that, there wasn’t anything to be upset about in my round. It was awesome.”
Playing in his first event this season north of the border, du Toit, who was born in Calgary, did not disappoint in his return home. After making par on the first six holes, the 26-year-old birdied six of the next 11 to finish with a 6-under round of 65.
“I somehow stole a birdie on (No.) seven,” said du Toit of the birdie putt that got things going for him. “I really shouldn’t have made birdie on seven. I made a nice putt and then had some good momentum going. I hit great shots basically the rest of the way in. I just played really solid from eight on in.”
It was a return to form for du Toit after finishing 66th on the Forme Tour points list this summer, a circuit that concluded its season last week.
“All of those places and golf courses were brand new to me,” said du Toit. “I struggled a bit right off the hop. It wasn’t a terrible year. I did a lot of good things, but I didn’t have any of the results that I wanted. Coming back here and being familiar with Country Hills and Calgary, it feels good to be home.”
Stefureak is also one shot off the lead after recording five birdies and an eagle, on No. 13.
“I’ve been working really hard on my putting,” said Stefureak. “Getting that going has been a big thing for me this year. I finally made a few putts today. The ball-striking was really good like it’s been all year, but the putting started coming together today.”
Brendan Leonard of Cambridge, Ontario, is alone in fourth after shooting a 5-under round of 67. He currently sits in second place in the overall points standings after his tie for seventh last week at the Elk Ridge Open.
Red Deer, Alberta’s Chandler McDowell is also enjoying playing in his home province despite some cool morning temperatures resulting in a 30-minute frost delay. McDowell tallied four birdies and an eagle, shooting a 4-under round of 67. He’s tied for fifth with Calgary’s Wes Heffernan and Thomas Code of Dorchester, Ontario.
“It was pretty important to stay warm and loose out there,” said McDowell. “I putted pretty well all day. I struggled with tee shots early in the round. I think I was little chilly, and then I got the flow of the round going and it was pretty smooth sailing from there.”
Playing on a sponsor’s exemption and competing in just her second tournament as a pro, Calgary’s Katy Rutherford shot a 7-over round of 79, but the Country Hills Golf Club member stayed positive throughout the round especially with the support of the hometown crowd.
“I hope I’m breaking down some barriers out here being the only female in the event,” said the 22-year-old. “It just means a lot to me. I know that the people out here are great, there’s a big support system and it makes my heart full.”
Officials suspended play due to darkness, with 11 players set to finish their opening rounds Friday morning.
“It’s really nice out there. It’s a good test of golf.” –Chandler McDowell
“It was amazing. I love the fact that so many came out to support me today. It was really cool to see all the good wishes I was getting. It was people sending me text messages, it was people coming out here. Pressure is a privilege, right? I felt like I responded well, and I had quite a big gallery going down the back nine today, and it was great. I felt like that kind of atmosphere, I really vibed off of it and it made me play better.” –Katy Rutherford
“I was struggling last week with the ball-striking, and I’m starting to feel a lot more confident over the golf ball. After a day like today, my confidence is pretty high.” –Will Barnett
“When the wind gets up, it can get pretty interesting, hitting into some of these bowls, and some of these greens. It’s a really fun golf course and I’m excited to play the next three rounds.” –Craig Stefureak
Cool and partly cloudy. Frost delayed play by 30 minutes. High of 15. Wind W at 17 kph. Gusts in the afternoon reached 35 kph.