CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — There aren’t many players who make more eagles and birdies than Billy Mayfair. And there aren’t any tournaments that reward below-par shooters the way the International does.
Mayfair, who ranks second behind only Vijay Singh in birdies and eagles this season, rolled in a 70-foot putt for eagle on No. 17, then finished with a birdie to take the lead after the first round of one of the tour’s most unique events Friday.
“Any more on this tour, it’s better to be aggressive than anything else,” Mayfair said. “I’ll play the same way tomorrow — as aggressive as I can. But not stupid.”
Playing at high altitude (6,300 feet) and using the modified Stableford scoring system, two factors that reward big hitters and aggressiveness, Mayfair scored 15 points to lead Brandt Jobe by two, D.A. Points and Charles Howell by three and Geoff Ogilvy and Tim Petrovic by four.
Under the Stableford scoring system, players get five points for eagles, two for birdies, nothing for pars and lose one point for bogeys.
Mayfair finished with five birdies to bring his total to 313 for the year. But it was his long roller on No. 17 — for his 13th eagle of the year — that went down as the shot of the day.
“I was just hoping to hit a good two-putt, make a birdie and go on,” he said. “It was just one of those 40-footers.”
Told a bit later that it was really more like 70 feet, Mayfair said, “Oh, OK, 70 feet.”
Howell, Jobe and Points also made eagle on No. 17, an uphill, 492-yard par-5 that more often than not determines the winner of this tournament. If things keep going the way they started, the final round could be fun: The 17th yielded 15 eagles in the opening round; last year, it produced 17 over all four rounds.
“The guy who sits in this chair winning on Sunday is going to have to make a few eagles,” Howell said. “It’s the most important hole in this tournament.”
And also one of the most difficult on which to choose the right club. Howell used a 6-iron on his approach, but only after deducting 10 percent from his yardage to account for playing at 6,300 feet, then adding for the extreme uphill, then subtracting again for the wind, which was at his back.
“You may see me out there with a calculator before the week is over,” he said.
While Mayfair’s presence on the leaderboard wasn’t a surprise, Corey Pavin’s certainly was. The shortest hitter on tour debunked the theory that only big hitters can succeed at 7,619-yard Castle Pines, making six birdies to finish with 10 points, tied for seventh place.
“I figure if I can make six birdies every round the rest of my life, I’ll be all right. It doesn’t really matter what format we’re in,” said Pavin, whose 255-yard driving average is nine yards shorter than the next-to-last guy on the list.
Not all the drama comes on 17, though.
Petrovic started on the back and was plodding along with a single point when he pulled his drive left, nearly out of bounds, on the par-4 15th. Faced with a 180-yard shot over trees, he hit an 8-iron to 8 feet and made the putt for birdie, the first of four he made over eight holes.
“If I win the tournament, I’ll look back to that shot,” he said.