LUMBERTON — Kyle Covington is no stranger to the top of the leaderboard at the county championships, having won the championship division in 2003 and 2004 and again every year from 2006 until 2010.
It had just been a while.
Covington got back on top Friday at Pinecrest Country Club, scoring a 3-under-par 69 to take a one-stroke lead after the first day of the 34th annual Robeson County Golf Championship, sponsored by Dial Insurance.
“It’s good not to be chasing for a change,” Covington said. “I don’t remember the last time I actually had a lead after the first or second round. I guess maybe the last time I won.”
Covington had only one bogey, on No. 16, and was the only player to finish with a score below par on each side of the course. He leads multi-time champion Dyrck Fanning by one stroke, with defending champion Ryan Bass and Jeff Wishart sitting behind them at 1-under-par 71.
Despite having the lead, Covington called his round “pretty blah” and said that he and the other players in his group — Fanning and Nick Dial — had similar issues throughout the day. Namely, good approaches with missed opportunities on the putting green.
“I’d hit it on the green, two putt, leave it short,” he said. “I didn’t make anything today.”
Playing in the same group, Fanning had the early lead. He went 3-under 33 on the front nine to take a one-stroke lead on Covington at the turn before scoring a 1-over 37 on the back. Covington scored a 1-under 35 on the back to take the tournament lead.
The 33 was the best nine-hole score from any golfer on the course.
Bass, who beat friend Brad Locklear in a one-hole playoff to win the county championship last year, felt jitters on the first day of his title defense.
“I was nervous probably the first three or four holes but after I got comfortable I was OK,” he said. “The first-tee ball was pretty nerve wracking but after that I was OK.”
Bass went 1-under on the front nine and even-par on the back.
“I’m happy with where I am at. I didn’t shoot myself out of it or anything. I just have to go out (today) and make birdies,” he said. “I have to get the ball in the fairway more. I didn’t give myself too many opportunities to make birdies. I have to make more birdie putts. Like I said, I made the par putts, missed the birdie putts, so I have to find a way to get the ball in the hole.”
Bass is tied for third place with Jeff Wishart, who is one of the tournament’s organizers. Wishart’s goal for the first day was to make as many pars as he could.
“That was my strategy, not to get in trouble,” Wishart said.
A long putt on No. 5 put him under before the turn but he struggled to make birdie putts on the back half of the course.
“For the first round, we’re all bunched together. Nobody’s run away with it,” he said.
The day’s early leader was Mark Kinlaw, who finished with the division’s first group. He scored an even-par 72, which tied for fifth place with James Chavis.
“I hit the ball really, really well, probably as good as I could hit it at times,” Kinlaw said.
The problem was an inconsistency with his putter. He sank two long putts, including a 15-footer and a 22-footer to go 1-under before the turn but three-putted on No. 9 and missed several birdie attempts on the back.
He emphasized the importance of having a strong first round, even though he felt like he should have had fewer strokes.
“I wanted to get something under par if I could but I’m pleased. Even-par is a good start,” Kinlaw said. “I put myself in a position where if I can come out here and have an under-par round.”
Chavis is a new face to the championship division, but hardly a new face in the local golf scene.
A former two-sport star at Purnell Swett High School who now plays basketball for Methodist University, Chavis represented the Rams at regional golf meets during all four years of high school.
Friday was his first time playing in the tournament’s top division.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to but if you want to play with the best, you’ve got to play with the best,” he said.
Four other golfers were within five strokes of the lead. Nick Dial and Andy Andrews both scored a 1-over-par 73 and former champion Brad Locklear and Yarnell Locklear were another stroke back at 74.