BROUSSARD — The morning wave had a big weather advantage in Thursday’s opening round of the $550,000 Chitimacha Louisiana Open. The biggest advantage was they got to finish.
And nobody took bigger advantage than Rhein Gibson.
The Australian-turned-Oklahoman carved up the 7,006-yard par-71 Le Triomphe layout on the way to a nine-under-par 62, a round that included two eagles on the front side and closing birdies on the 17th and 18th holes. That solid trip has him two strokes ahead of the field heading into Friday’s second round of the Web.com Tour event.
“The first day, you’re a little nervous and you’d like to get off to a good start and kind of set up your week,” said the Tour rookie. “You don’t want to be behind the 8-ball and always chasing your tail.”
Instead, the field is chasing him … at least, the ones that finished play Thursday. Thanks to nearly back-to-back lightning stoppages that forced a combined two hours and 41 minutes of delays, none of the players in the afternoon wave had completed their opening 18 holes when play was stopped at 7:06 p.m. due to darkness.
That group of 72 golfers will return to Le Triomphe at 7:45 a.m. Friday to finish the first round before beginning their second round at approximately 8:35 a.m.
“I think we got the better side of the draw with the delays,” Gibson said. “I’m at 9-under, and if you’d said I had a three, four under this morning, I would have taken it.”
Gibson leads by two shots over veteran Glen Day and Cameron Wilson, both of whom shot 7-under 64 in the morning. Day and Gibson, in fact, finished almost simultaneously at the ninth and 18th holes even though both had to wait through both delays while on their final hole.
“I was in the fairway on the last hole, so it wasn’t that hard for me,” said former PGA Tour winner Day, who was on the ninth fairway to finish his round when sirens stopped play for the first time. “We definitely had the best side of the draw this morning.”
Gibson was on the 18th tee at 8-under when that delay started.
“I wanted to get that tee shot off because I figured the weather was coming in, and it would be a good one to get off while I was still warm.”
Instead, he waited through the first hour and 15 minutes and then boomed his 18th-hole tee shot. But before he could get to his ball, the second sirens blared and he headed back for another 1:26 of waiting.
“I was thinking I’d hit a wedge on the green and be done with the day,” he said, “but fortunately I birdied the hole anyway.”
That 118-yard wedge left him a 15-footer, which he drained for his sixth birdie to go with eagles at the par-five first and seventh holes on the front side. His second-shot 5-iron left him a 15-footer on the first, and a second-shot 4-iron landed 10 feet on the seventh.
“With three of those (par-fives) on the first seven, you have to take advantage of those,” said Gibson, who tied for sixth at the season-opening Panama Claro Championships for his best-ever Web.com Tour finish.
Day also eagled the seventh and had five birdies in a bogey-free round, making the turn in 2-under after playing the much-tougher back side to start his round.
“The back is a good test of golf,” he said. “You’ve got to hit some quality shots and hit it solid. Fortunately, I did that, got the ball on the greens on the hard holes and made my pars, and hit some wedges close.”
Wilson had four birdies on each side with his only bogey at the difficult 14th, a par-four in the Open but a par-five the other 51 weeks of the year. That hole has been among the hardest 20 on Tour in five of the last six years.
“I gave myself a bunch of chances,” Wilson said. “I was happy with a lot of shots that I hit even on the holes where I didn’t make birdie. I felt like some of my pars were just as good as birdies.”
Bronson Brugoon, Wes Roach and Whee Kim are each two strokes back and tied for fourth at 65 among Thursday’s 72 finishers, while another half-dozen are one more stroke back after an opening 66.
The best score on-course for the halted afternoon wave was Rick Cochran III, who stands at five-under through 16 holes.
Former UL-Lafayette standout Michael Smith, playing the Open on a sponsor exemption, led the local delegation with a three-under 68 that included seven birdies but also a pair of double-bogeys at the 13th and 18th holes after starting at the 10th. But Smith blazed to a four-under front nine that could have been six- or seven-under.
“I really had a lot of good golf shots,” Smith said. “I just had two really bad holes. I’m really happy with the front nine ... about every hole, I had an opportunity. I missed on two, seven and nine from seven or eight feet, but I hit a lot of good putts, too.”
The 144-player field will be cut to the low 65 and ties following Friday’s second round.