AUBURN – It’s safe to say Mark Baldwin enjoys golf at Fox Ridge.

One year after finishing eighth in the tournament’s first trek to the Auburn layout, Baldwin overcame a blustery front nine with a surge of birdies late to fire a 3-under-par 69, good for a share of the first-round lead in the 89th edition of the Charlie’s Maine Open.

“I was very patient and very relaxed all day,” Baldwin said. “I was striking the ball well and giving myself opportunities.”

The Laconia, N.H., golfer plodded along with even par through his first nine holes, which are normally the back-nine holes at Fox Ridge. Tournament officials switched the nines at the course for this week’s tournament, making the par-5 ninth hole the finishing hole.

“I think this is why they reversed the nines, for spectator purposes and to make it more dramatic,” Baldwin said. “I’d take this finish on the last day, too.”

On his second nine, Baldwin survived the first five holes in even par, too, including the tough-as-nails par-3 fifth (playing as the tournament’s 14th hole), which played nearly 200 yards to the island green with a left-to-right wind. Birdies on his 15th, 17th and 18th holes thrust him into the lead.

“I’ve been working on finishing rounds well,” said Baldwin, who hit 16 greens in regulation.

His one hiccup came on the par-3 12th. His tee ball went over the green, and he somehow lobbed his second shot high enough in the air to stop it hole-high before it rolled back down the front of the green to the false front.

Todd Westfall, a runner-up to Shawn Warren in the 2004 Maine Open, fired a late-afternoon 69 to join Baldwin on top of the leaderboard.

“I three-putted one, on the par-5 (13th hole), but then I came back and hit it to four inches on the par-3 (14th hole),” Westfall said. “It evened out, I guess.”

Prior to Baldwin’s round, it appeared the best scores of the day would all come from the first group that teed off in the morning. One of the pre-tournament favorites, Warren had it to three-under himself through 17 holes, but a costly double-bogey on the par-5 finishing hole dropped him back to a 1-under-par round of 71.

One shot behind Warren is Fox Ridge pro Bob Darling Jr., who’s tied with Ross McGee, Rob Corcoran and Martin Catalioto at even-par 72.

“Last year, even par won it,” Corcoran said after making three bogies and three birdies. “You just have to be consistent and limit the big mistakes. The course is much more receptive this year.”

McGee is playing in his third tournament as a professional. He was also in contention early at this year’s Maine Amateur before signing for an incorrect score. He passed his test to become a professional shortly thereafter.

Darling, meanwhile, is sitting eight shots better after one round this year than he was last year, when he shot an 80 in the opening round.

“Last year was two-fold,” Darling said. “I was a little nervous about how the course was going to stack up to some good golfers, and I was worrying about my own game. This year, things are a little bit more organized, plus we’re having a good year, which helps, too.”

Last year’s champion, amateur Ricky Jones of Thomaston, was the low amateur again Monday, firing a late-day 74 to stay within five of the leaders.

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