Hit fairways. Keep the putts short and level. Maybe even leave some room for improvement and let the field back up to him in the later rounds.

Makes you wonder what’s next for Duke after Monday’s opening 5-under 65 at Augusta Country Club landed him the lead heading into the second and final round of the 95th Charlie’s Maine Open, doesn’t it?

“That’s all I’ve been trying to do. I turned professional in 2010, and every tournament I go to I just try to give myself a chance,” Duke said.

Duke’s birdie on the 18th hole was his seventh of the day, supplying him a one-shot lead over four players.

Ted Brown of Glen Allen, Va., Max Gilbert of Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, Quebec, Jon McLean of Weston, Fla., and Evan Harmeling of Andover, Mass., are in the logjam at 4-under 66.

In a five-way tie for sixth at 67 are Jace Pearson of Auburn, past champion Geoffrey Sisk of Marshfield, Mass., low amateur Jason Gall of Augusta, Nick Antonelli of Atkinson, N.H., and Abbie Valentine of Bayville, N.Y.

The 36-hole tournament concludes Tuesday.

Moving to Maine from Louisiana as a teenager added snowboarding to Duke’s repertoire of solo sports. He soon elected to focus on golf, however, starring on the Maine State Golf Association junior circuit before relocating to Alabama.

He played two years at Huntingdon College in Montgomery before growing weary of the team politics of an individual game and striking out on his own.

Duke, 25, owns two victories on the Emerald Coast Golf Tour, a southeastern loop that claims Masters champion Bubba Watson and Boo Weekley as alumni.

Exploding from the gate with an early Monday morning tee time is nothing new for Duke, who usually spends that day playing in a PGA or Web.com Tour qualifying event.

“I shot 66 at the Zurich (Open, Avondale, La.) qualifier and missed by a lot, it seemed like, even though I only missed a playoff by one shot,” Duke said. “That’s a heartbreaker when you post your score and you’re in a PGA Tour event, and then you wait three hours and then you’re not because one guy comes in and bumps you out. That’s just the way the road goes.”

Monday’s round opened ominously for Duke with a bogey at the par-3 second hole.

Nos. 3 and 4 have given Duke headaches in the past — “my nemesis holes,” he noted. This time, back-to-back birdies there and another one at No. 6 were the springboard to a scorching round.

Duke drained a 30-foot putt on No. 10 to start a string of three consecutive birdies. His closing birdie canceled out a second miscue at No. 16.

“I missed it left, hit it over the green, dumped it on the green and made about a 10-footer for bogey, so that could have put a little halt to the momentum,” he said.

Augusta’s relatively short distance of 6,214 yards from the tips often tempts younger, stronger players to use their driver on the shorter par-4s. Duke resisted the whispers of the devil on one shoulder and heeded the angel overlooking the other.

“Now that I’ve played here a handful of times, I know the places to hit it and the places where you don’t hit driver but hit 3-iron and just give yourself an opportunity,” Duke said. “The key is just keep it in play off the tee. A lot of these greens you don’t want to be over them. You don’t want to be to the side of them. You don’t want to be in the bunker. You want to be on the green, in the middle, below the hole.”

Duke also knows that an opening-day red number guarantees nothing.

It was Dustin Cone’s second-round 66 and Jimmy Lytle’s 64 that vaulted them from outside the top 10 and into a playoff a year ago, with Cone prevailing.

“Last year I played decent the first round, I think 71, and then I shot, I don’t know, a million the second round and it took me right out of it,” Duke recalled.

And don’t look now, but 47 players are still within five shots of the lead.

Brown, 34, a native of Ontario, notched an eagle on the 546-yard, par-5 fifth hole on the heels of a birdie at No. 4 to jumpstart his round.

Gilbert finished with a birdie to pull into the second-place tie. McLean and Harmeling, who had mid-afternoon tee times, each birdied two of the final four holes.

Pearson, a teaching professional at Martindale Country Club, is playing in his first signficant tournament of the summer.

He was 4-under on the front nine with consecutive birdies on the third, fourth and fifth holes and another at the ninth.

“The back nine I was excited for it, and I don’t want to say I got into a rut, but I just lost my swing there for a little bit and couldn’t get it going,” Pearson said. “I one-putted I think every green on the front side, so when I missed something I made up for it with the flat stick.”

Pearson bounced back from bogeys at 10 and 14 with a birdie at 16 to stay near the lead.

Sisk recently played in his seventh U.S. Open. The 1996 Maine Open at Point Sebago in Casco made four birdies. Valentine chalked up five.

Thirteen players are at 2-under 68, including Minot’s Andrew Slattery and past winner Eric Egloff.

Lytle and Bangor native Jesse Speirs also are at 68 along with Jesse Larson, winner of the New Hampshire Open.

Speirs is another player now living in the south — Memphis, Tenn. — and trying to make his professional mark. He reached the second level of PGA Tour qualifying in 2012 and currently is playing on PGA Tour Canada.

He made four bogeys, three birdies and two pars on an erratic front nine before sinking birdie putts at 13, 17 and 18.

“The back nine, I had a couple good up-and-downs to kind of keep the round going,” Speirs said. “The rough is really wet, and it’s thick on top of that. Your second shot, if you’re hitting it in the rough all day like I was, it’s tough to get it close. I haven’t played here since I was 14 and qualified for the Maine Amateur. The course has only gotten better.”

Madison’s Seth Sweet is one of four Mainers in a group of 13 at 1-under 69.

Embroiled in a 11-way tie at even are past winners Shawn Warren, John Hickson and Jerry DiPhilippo.

Many of the biggest names in the field struggled.

Cone, who has won two of the past three years, likely played himself out of contention with a 78.

The 2011 winner, Michael Carbone, shot 74.

Maine Amateur champion Ricky Jones, winner of the 2006 Maine Open at Fox Ridge, carded 77 and missed the amateur cut.

Two notable ACC members, 13-time Maine Amateur champ Mark Plummer (73) and Pittston pro Ryan Gay (76), also are well off the pace.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: