CLYMER, N.Y. – Australian Rhein Gibson rolled in a four footer for birdie on the 18th hole to shoot 8-under 64 and take a one-stroke lead over local favorite Dominic Bozzelli (65) in the first round of the LECOM Health Challenge.
â€œI played nice today,â€ said Gibson. â€œI hit some good shots and made a couple of nice putts. Iâ€™m pretty stoked.â€
The 8-under-par score is Gibsonâ€™s lowest round this season on the Web.com Tour. In his rookie campaign on the PGA TOUR, the 30-year-old Oklahoma Christian University alum has played 16 events and made the cut seven times. His best performance, a tie for 25th, came at last weekâ€™s Barracuda Championship.
â€œIâ€™ve kind of struggled with my game all year,â€ said Gibson. â€œI feel like Iâ€™m on the right track. Iâ€™m going to try and play well here and carry that momentum into the Barbasol next week.â€
In 2015, Gibson kicked his game into high gear during the Web.com Tour Finals. He fired back-to-back 65s on the weekend the Web.com Tour Championship, finished fourth and earned a PGA TOUR card for this season. His best showing last year on Tour came in Lafayette at the Chitmacha Louisiana Open where he finished tied for second.
â€œI just havenâ€™t had that this year,â€ said Gibson, who carded five birdies in his final seven holes to jump into the lead. â€œI feel like Iâ€™m trending in the right direction. I need to finish the season strong and see where it puts me for next year.â€
Bozzelli signed his scorecard about 15 minutes before Gibson and momentarily held the outright lead. The 25-year-old from Rochester, N.Y., had a nice gallery on hand to watch him rise up the leaderboard on Thursday afternoon. Bozzelli had never stepped foot on the Peekâ€™n Peak Resortâ€™s Upper Course before this week but seeing so many familiar faces outside the ropes allowed him to relax and concentrate on the task at hand.
â€œI really appreciate all the support,â€ said Bozzelli, who has given away more than 20 tickets to friends and family this week. â€œItâ€™s great having all those people out there and I really think itâ€™s easier to focus.â€
Bozzelli had a few crowd pleasing highlights throughout the round, but none drew a bigger cheer than his flop shot on the par-5 18th hole to setup birdie. Coming out of the right rough with very little green to work with, the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship winner hit a towering pitch that checked to within two feet of the hole.
â€œWith the greens being softer today, it makes that shot easier,â€ said Bozzelli. â€œI didnâ€™t want to be there, but it set up perfectly to hit that shot.â€
After his win earlier this season in Punta Cana, Bozzelli has had trouble cracking the top 30. He has made the cut in the three events following his maiden victory but hasnâ€™t contend since his magical week in the Dominican Republic.
â€œA lot of things get thrown at you,â€ said Bozzelli, who felt mentally fatigued after the Air Capital Classic. â€œThe week off was nice. I got to push the reset button this past week and came out here fresh and ready to go.â€