MANCHESTER, Maine — Mack Duke didn’t have a good feeling early in the first round of the Charlie’s Maine Open Championship on Monday morning.
The Alabama golfer bogeyed the par 3 second hole, then had his two “nemesis holes” at Augusta Country Club staring him in the face.
Duke responded with back-to-back birdies that helped propel him to a 5-under-par 65 and the first-round lead in the $50,000 tournament.
Duke, who plays at the Samoset Resort in Rockport during the summer, logged seven birdies, nine pars and two bogeys to grab a one-shot advantage. Four players, Ted Brown of Glen Allen, Va., Canadian Max Gilbert, Jon McLean of Weston, Fla., and Evan Harmeling of Andover, Mass., shot 66.
“I played pretty well,” said Duke, 25, who played with Augusta Country Club member Mark Plummer (73) and Jerry DiPhilippo of Gorham (70).
Duke said he went into the Maine Open with a fair amount of confidence.
“I finished eighth at Bangor [GBO] and shot 2 under/3 under, so it was nice to put [together] a better round than the first round [there],” he said.
A group of five players looms two strokes back at 67. That contingent includes Jace Pearson of Auburn, Jason Gall of Augusta, Geoff Sisk of Marshfield, Mass., Nick Antonelli of Atkinson, N.H., and Abbie Valentine of Bayville, N.Y.
Thirteen other players carded 2-under 68s, including Bangor native Jesse Speirs, Chris Hamel of Waterville, Andrew Slattery of Minot and Greater Bangor Open runner-up Jesse Larson of Mendon, Vt.
Also within three shots of the leader are Jeb Buchanan of Loudonville, N.Y., Kevin Busteed of West Palm Beach, Fla., Eric Egloff of Sandy Spring, Md., Jimmy Lytle of Ocean Ridge, Fla., and Eddie Kirby of Wakefield, R.I.
Lytle was the 2012 Maine Open runner-up to Dustin Cone of Port Saint Lucie, Fla., who struggled to an 8-over 78 on Monday.
Duke took advantage of the misty early conditions to set the pace for the field of 156 players, including 120 professionals.
“The key is to keep it in play off the tee here,” said the 25-year-old, who has been playing in PGA and Web.com tour qualifying tournaments.
“You want to be on the green, in the middle, below the hole,” Duke said. “That’s my strategy and it paid off today and hopefully I can do the same tomorrow.”
The 36-hole event concludes Tuesday, with the winner taking home $10,000.
Amateur Ricky Jones of Thomaston, who won the Maine Amateur here three weeks ago, shot a 77 and did not make the amateur cut. Ryan Gay of Pittston and Augusta Country Club came in at 76 and was among 20 amateurs to advance.
All pros were guaranteed a spot in the second round.
Duke got hot after his bogey on the par-3 second hole with birdies on Nos. 3 and 4.
“I three-putted from about 40 feet and missed about a 3-footer, so I was like, uh-oh,” he said, with two troublesome holes up next.
“I usually bogey them every year,” Duke said. “This year I hit it up the middle, hit a wedge close and made birdie [on No. 3] and then I hit an iron close on 4. That was good to get it back under par as quick as I could.”
Duke birdied the sixth to finish the front 2 under, then rattled off three birdies to start the back nine. He ran into a bit of trouble with a bogey on the 16th.
“I missed it [the drive] left and hit it [the second shot] over the green, dumped it on the green, made about a 10-footer for bogey, so that could have kind of put a little halt to the momentum,” he said.
It didn’t, as he later birdied No. 18.
Brown put himself in the title hunt with a round that included an eagle, three birdies and a single bogey.
The 33-year-old native of Calgary, Alberta, was 4 under on the front nine, including the eagle on the 546-yard par-5 sixth hole. He got to 5 under with a birdie on 16, but bogeyed the par-3 17th.
Gilbert and McLean each posted five birdies with one bogey, while Harmeling played a bogey-free round with four birdies.
Maine pro Pearson was in the group at 67. The assistant pro at Martindale Country Club in Auburn registered birdies on Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 9 to make the turn at 4 under (31).
Pearson had bogeys on 10 and 14, but notched another birdie on the 16th hole to end on a positive note.
“It’s actually the first tournament I’ve played this year. We’ve been busy,” he said of his duties at Martindale.
Pearson, who finished tied for 82nd in the 2012 Maine Open, enjoyed Monday’s round.
“I played with a good bunch of guys today; very steady, easy to get along with,” Pearson said of playing partners Valentine and Slattery.
Speirs overcame what he described as a back-and-forth front nine to play himself into contention.
The 26-year-old had three birdies and four bogeys over the first nine holes, then responded with a 3-under 32 on the back en route to his 68.
“It was kind of tough. If you miss it in the wrong spot, it’s really tough to make par,” Speirs said. “Front nine, I did that a bunch. Back nine, I had a couple good up-and-downs to kind of keep the round going.”
Speirs called the scoring conditions ideal, given the soft, fast greens. However, the rough was challenging.
“The rough was really wet and it was thick on top of that, so if you’re hitting it in the rough, which I was all day, then it’s tough to get it close.”
Speirs, whose home base is Memphis, Tenn., has been playing on the PGA Canadian Tour. He tied for 21st at last week’s rain-shortened GBO at Bangor Municipal Golf Course.