THOMSON, Ga. - The Belle Meade Country Club golf course was kind to most of the field in Saturday's first round of the Camellia Classic.
Two golfers who didn't take advantage of the 6,403-yard course were the previous winners of this Regions Cup tournament, now in its third year.
Waynesboro's Mitch Marchman, the 1999 winner, shot 75 and Augusta's Crane Garren, the 2000 champion, had an 85.
They trail co-leaders Greg Ablett of Atlanta and Jay Blackburn of Augusta, each of whom had 3-under-par 69s. Thomson's Wren Fowler shot 70.
Bobby Gause of Columbia leads the senior division with a 72, one clear of Aiken's Michael Benham, the three-time defending senior player of the year.
Since the seniors are playing the same tees as the regular division, they are eligible for the overall title.
Ablett and Blackburn were paired together Saturday and combined for 10 birdies, six by Ablett.
"It's a course that can be scored on," Ablett said. "I'm surprised somebody's not five or six under par."
"There are a lot of holes you can take advantage of, especially the par-5s because you can get so close to them (in two shots) ," said Fowler, whose three birdies came on par-5 holes. "Out here, I expect to shoot no worse than par, just because I've played here so long."
Of the contenders, no one knows the course better than the 19-year-old Fowler, who was redshirted as a freshman last year at Georgia Tech.
"I started when I was 1," Fowler said. "I was in diapers; I've got it on tape.
With 17 players within six shots of the co-leaders, the tournament is wide open today. The same could be said for the remaining six Regions Cup events after Marchman revealed Saturday that's he's cutting back his schedule dramatically this year.
For the past two seasons, Marchman has been the Tiger Woods of the Regions Cup circuit, winning seven times and taking player of the year honors each year.
With his interest in competitive golf in decline, Marchman said he may play in only one more Regions Cup event this year. He played in six in 1999 and seven in 2000.
"I'm just not interested, really," Marchman said. "It's strange. Between work and family and everything else, this is fourth or fifth on my list.
I just don't have any desire," Marchman said. "It's just not there right now. I'm not motivated at all. This is almost the last place in the world I want to be. I've got to see if the desire comes back."
That leaves player of the year honors up for grabs for those who have been chasing Marchman the last two years, headed by Blackburn.
"He's lost a little interest, but I think he'll play in more than he saying he will," said Blackburn, one of Marchman's best friends on the Regions Cup tour. "He's got a bad attitude. I think he'll get back into it."
Blackburn, a two-time winner last year, started off slowly Saturday, missing a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 1 and then bogeying No. 2. It would be his last bogey of the day to go with birdies on Nos. 4, 7, 9 and 15.
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