- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2011

Chris Baryla fired a 7-under par 64 to claim the first round lead at the Melwood Prince George’s County Open in College Park Thursday.

The 28-year-old Canadian plowed through his morning round with a combination of big hitting and short game wizardry, utilizing a 324-yard driving average and 25 putts to help rack up nine birdies.

Baryla’s prodigious tee shots often went astray, as he missed six out of 14 fairways. Even when his ball nestled into the long grass, though, Baryla consistently found ways to maintain efficiency around the greens and salvage good scores.

“When I had little miscues I got it up and down, kept the ball in play and made all the putts I should have and a couple I probably shouldn’t have,” Baryla said.

The University of Maryland Golf Course stayed in perfect condition under sunny skies, but 15-20 mph wind gusts made things challenging for golfers throughout the day. Perhaps even more menacing though was the rough, which several players described as some of the thickest they have faced this season.

Nineteen-year-old amateur Nicholas Reach — the youngest player in the field — might have ended his day under par had it not been for a couple of trips into the long grass late in his round. Sitting at 1-under through 13 holes, Reach made a bogey after hacking out of the rough on the 14th. He then hit a nice drive through the fairway on the following hole, forcing him to punch out of the rough again. That hole ended in a double bogey, which put a damper on an otherwise solid score of 1-over 72 that left him in a tie for 85th place in the 156-man field.

“It was a really good round,” Reach said. “I hit it really good. It was one of the best 1-overs I’ve ever shot in my life.”

Thirty-nine-year-old veteran Greg Owen came to the finishing par-5 18th hole with a good chance to tie Baryla’s mark. His second shot appeared headed for the green but failed to overcome the upslope. His ensuing pitch shot came up well short of the hole, leading to a par that gave him a 65 and a share of second place.

“I played that pitch to let it run out, and it just went nowhere,” Owen said. “That finish was a little disappointing, but all in all, I got a couple of nice bounces today, so I’m pretty happy.”

Baryla, whose lone professional victory came at the 2009 Chattanooga Classic, is looking to bounce back with a win after his 2010 season was cut short by hip surgery last April.

The 72-hole tournament concludes Sunday. The winner will receive $108,000 from a total purse of $600,000.

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