Elliott back on track, contending for victory

Posted June 30, 2009, at 9:48 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — John Elliott of Westerly, R.I., is a PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour veteran who is getting back on track after a rough stretch of years recently.

Elliott fired a 4-under-par 67 at rain-soaked Riverside Municipal Golf Course on Tuesday and sits two strokes behind leader Jim Renner of Plainville, Mass., after the opening round of the Charlie’s Portland Maine Open.

Rob Oppenheim of Andover, Mass., and Keegan Fennessy of Minot are tied for second at 66, while Rich Parker of Lebanon, N.H., and Steve Sokol of Milford, Conn., matched Elliott’s 67.

The entire field of 164 players has been re-paired for today’s 18-hole finale. There was no cut in the chase for the $10,000 first prize.

“Let’s just say it was personal issues,” said Elliott, who was a contender in the Greater Bangor Open Golf Tournament in the late 1980s.

He qualified for the Ben Hogan (Now Nationwide) Tour in 1990 and kept playing privileges there through 2005. He also qualified for the PGA Tour in 1992, ‘93, ‘96, ‘99 and ‘05.

The 45-year-old pro wants to get back to that level again.

“Age doesn’t matter as [PGA Tour veteran] Kenny Perry shows,” said Elliott.

“Now that I have my personal issues resolved, I’m ready to play,” he said.

He knows he’ll have his hands full.

“Jim is really strong, and Rob is a good player,” said Elliott, who may be forgiven for not recognizing Fennessy because he’s a first-year pro. Renner won the 2007 Greater Portland Open on this course, and Oppenheim recently won this year’s Massachusetts Open.

“If Renner puts up a 63 on us, we have no chance,” said Elliott. “If he shoots 68 or 69….”

One advantage Elliott may have is that he played in the afternoon session Monday, and the greens were marked up some because of the wet conditions. Renner and Oppenheim played early in the morning when the greens were smoother, so they may be facing more difficult conditions.

“I’m playing solid, and pitching and chipping better than usual,” Elliott said. “Once you’re on the green, you just hope you can wiggle one in once in a while.”

Elliott bogeyed his first hole, but he recovered quickly and birdied the next to get back to even. After making another birdie on No. 5, he was under par for the rest of the round.

“When you’re putting good, it’s easier to hang in mentally,” he said.

“Tomorrow, I think I can win,” he added.

Ricky Jones of Thomaston is the low amateur after an opening-round 69, a stroke ahead of 2008 Maine Amateur champ Ryan Gay of Pittston and two ahead of Joe Alvarez of Hampden.

Jones was chuckling about his round, which was anything but pretty, according to him.

“If you’d watched me all day, you’d have thought I’d hit 80,” he said.

“I played like two holes I think I hit good shots on,” he said.

His friend, Cash Wiseman of Scarborough, came out to watch and started caddying for Jones. He then helped Jones read putts, taking him from 3 over par to 2 under.

Jones appreciated the help.

“Any time you have a caddie and reach the same conclusion, your confidence gets a boost,” said Jones, who won the 2006 Maine Open.

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