- - Thursday, October 4, 2012

As the sun burst through the storm clouds to dry the TPC Potomac at Avenel golf course, Alistair Presnell took a long, smooth swing to send his ball flying down the eighth fairway with a ping.

“How’s it feel to hit last?” asked Luke Guthrie with a laugh.

Golf etiquette says the winner of the previous hole hits first. As the money leader on the Web.com Tour with $382,463 in earnings, Guthrie figured to be in that leadoff position often during the opening round of the Neediest Kids Championship on Thursday.

Instead, he sprayed the ball around the course for seven bogies. He finished with a 5-over 75 and teed off last in his group on most holes.

Save for a few hiccups, it was his group mate Presnell who hit first off most tees. The Australian started the day by sinking a birdie on the 10th hole. It was one of five birdies on his first nine. He finished the round with six.

The man from Down Under was at 5-under 65 and on top of the leader board when he signed his scorecard. His score stood up until later in the afternoon when Jason Gore birdied his final three holes to finish at 7 under.

“I really didn’t hit it that great but somehow got it around,” said Gore, who sank four 20-foot putts. “I just made everything I looked at.”

Fifty-fifth on the money list, Presnell has his work cut out to catch Gore. It could be worse since he figured he would be fixing air conditioners for a living. After graduating from high school in Australia, Presnell had a choice: He could pursue academics, athletics or a vocational trade.

“I didn’t feel as though my golf game was ever going to make me turn pro,” Presnell said. “Therefore, I went off to do an air conditioning trade.”

Presnell completed his degree. Then in 2004, just 18 months after graduation, the Melbourne native turned pro. That same year, he finished tied for fifth at the Australian Open.

Like many players on the Web.com Tour, Presnell is just on the cusp of becoming a full-time PGA Tour player. Earlier this year, he narrowly qualified for the U.S. Open, his first major, by winning a playoff at a sectional qualifier in Houston. He surprised the field, and himself, by shooting a 70 to finish just four back of the lead after the opening round.

“With no expectations, being my first Open and being not overly comfortable with my game, I surprised myself a bit,” Presnell said.

He shot a combined 9 over during the second and third rounds to drop out of contention but was able to recover with another 70 on the last day to finish tied for 29th.

“That was my first major and first open, so that was a nice way to begin,” Presnell said. “Hopefully, it gets better from here.”

He’ll have to avoid midround disappointment if he is going to catch Gore and keep up with Michael Connell, Will Wilcox and Josh Persons, who also are tied for second at 5 under.

The real question, though, is if Presnell can still repair a broken air conditioner.

“I’ve got the wrong tools to fix that,” he said, looking at his golf clubs. “Sorry.”

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