PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida — Valuable experience on the Dye’s Valley course here at TPC Sawgrass have propelled Dalton Ward and amateur Jorge Garcia into a share of the first-round lead at the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada’s third Qualifying Tournament.
Both players carded a 7-under 65 Tuesday, one shot clear of Spain’s Alfredo Garcia-Heredia and five others in a tie for fourth. It should come as no surprise considering their wealth of success on this course over the years.
“I’ve had some success here at this course before,” Ward said. “I did good last year in the qualifier here. I’m comfortable here. There’s trouble on pretty much every hole, but as long as you can just stick to it and hit the fairways, you’ll have good looks at birdie. It’s kind of a short course, but really tight.”
Ward, a native of Sumter, S.C., earned conditional status here last year after finishing fifth, three shots behind winner Dawson Armstrong. He went on to make 11 starts on the Mackenzie Tour in 2018, highlighted by a tie for 17th at the GolfBC Championship.
Garcia, meanwhile, has estimated that Tuesday was his ninth career round on the Dye’s Valley course. Before transferring to Barry University, he played in a pair of tournaments here with the University of Florida and also competed in the Junior PLAYERS Championship.
That familiarity has paid off, so far.
“I picked this place because I’ve played well out here before,” he said. “I really like golf courses where you know what you’re going to get. You know the greens and fairways and stuff like that. knowing that is why I picked this week.”
Did you know Alfredo Garcia-Heredia was playing his first competitive round in the United States? The Gijón, Spain, resident has played mostly on the Challenge Tour the last three years, but is hoping to play on Mackenzie Tour this season in order to be closer to his wife, Leah Masten, who lives in Spokane, Wash. Garcia-Heredia is in third place after shooting an opening 6-under 66.
Last week, Dalton Ward Monday qualified into the Web.com Tour’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championships. He missed the cut after rounds of 75-73—148.
Alfredo Garcia-Heredia will return to Spain this Saturday for two straight starts on the Challenge Tour. He will tee it up first at the Challenge de España next week in Alava Province, Spain, before appearing in the Prague Golf Challenge in the Czech Republic.
Mark Silvers, who won the 2014 Cape Breton Celtic Classic presented by PC Financial, shot a 3-under 69, good for a tie for ninth. The University of South Carolina product has not played on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada since that season, when he finished 10th on the money list.
Starting on the back, Billy Walthouse made the turn at 1 over before carding a bogey-free 31 on the front nine. He birdied Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8 to finish with a 4-under 68. He tied for 22nd here at TPC Sawgrass in 2018 to earn conditional status.
Eight Canadians help comprise the 119-man field, and Austin James leads the way after the first round. The Ontario native, who played at Charleston Southern University, birdied four of his last five holes to pull into a tie for ninth.
There are 11 amateurs in the field this week at TPC Sawgrass, led by Barry University’s Jorge Garcia, who shares the first-round lead with Dalton Ward.
“I’ll be a little more prepared than I was last year. My game was in pretty good form when I went to Canada, but I didn’t make a cut until like the third or fourth event. But it was a great learning experience. It was the most I’ve ever traveled back-to-back weeks. I look forward to getting back there.” – Dalton Ward
“I’m coming into pretty good form. I played the Web.com Tour event in Alabama last week, I shot 7-under to Monday into that. Unfortunately, I missed the cut by a few shots. It was really tough conditions. But still, it was a good tune-up for this week. My game is really good, all of its pretty good. Driving, irons, chipping and putting.” – Dalton Ward
“The last few months I’ve been playing really well, especially at school working with coach Jimmy Stobs. He’s making sure I’m doing the right things strategy-wise. It feels good. It was a good round today, but there’s a long way to go. There’s 54 more holes where I have to keep the pedal going.” – Jorge Garcia
“We’ve got regionals and nationals coming up for our team, that’s what’s going on outside of this. But coming here, just to get status and be able to play on a tour this summer, so I can get ready to move up the ranks in the future.” – Jorge Garcia
“To be close to my wife Leah and her family, I’m going to try to play up there. Everything is around here, so it would be easier for me, my wife and my coach. It’s super nice, I love this area. The golf course is nice, the weather is amazing and Dye’s Valley is in great condition.” – Alfredo Garcia-Heredia
“Today was a surprise because, since last November, I haven’t played in any tournaments. You miss the feeling of a tournament and you can’t replicate it. You can play and practice, but a tournament feeling is different. First tournament of the year, you never know what’s going to happen. It was very nice for me to see a 66, a pretty good round, pretty solid.” – Alfredo Garcia-Heredia
“I played some in Canada in 2014 and had a win. That was the last time I was up there. So I’ve got great memories and would be excited to get full status and make my way back up there.” – Mark Silvers
“Especially on a golf course that’s tough like this, you just have to keep it in front of you. There’s no reason to press, especially early on. This is a demanding golf course and you can get yourself in trouble really quick if you slip up.” – Mark Silvers
“It’s a long tournament, but if you get off to a shaky start and make some bogeys, those are tough to recover from. It’s about avoiding big numbers. The goal is to get back up to Canada this summer and hopefully use what I learned last year and get better.” – Billy Walthouse
Tournament Fast Fact
Jorge Garcia was a second-team All-American in 2018 at Barry University. He’s perhaps best known for finishing runner-up to Paul Chaplet at the 2016 Latin American Amateur Championship.
How the Tournament Works
There are 120 players competing this week with hopes of earning Mackenzie Tour membership for the 2019 season. Below is a breakdown of the status available at each of the six Qualifying Tournaments:
|Medalist||Exempt for the 2019 season|
|2nd through 14th||Fully exempt for the first six tournaments and subject to the re-shuffle|
|15th through 40th (plus ties)||Conditionally exempt|
First-Round Weather Report
Sunny and clear. High of 28. Wind ENE at 7 kmh.