The 38-year-old glass installer from Albertville birdied each of his first four holes Friday, but needed a two-putt birdie on the last hole to grab the opening-round lead in the 77th Calhoun County Golf Championship at Cane Creek Golf Course.
Cole shot a 5-under-par 67 and his birdie at the last gave him a one-shot lead over 17-year-old Caleb McKinney of Weaver. Ott Chandler and Matt Rogers were another shot back at 69.
Three players — three-time defending champion Gary Wigington, Jeremy McGatha and Nick Pollard — were at 70.
“I birdied the first four holes and held on for dear life,” Cole said.
Cole won the amateur portion of the Fort McClellan Credit Union Pro-Invitational earlier in the season, made his first two birdies from six feet and his second two from 25 feet.
“After that I’m thinking it’s going to be a good day,” Cole said. “When the putt went in on 1, no big deal … but when it fell on 3 and then on 4 after I didn’t hit a very good wedge shot, Matt (Rogers) looks at me and says, ‘All right, I’m about to call the fire department.’
“I’m thinking if I keep putting like this and keep it on the property, keep making some putts, it could be stupid low. But I never really hit it close again.”
The par-5 fifth hole was another birdie hole. He had 80 yards to the pin after chipping out with his second hole, but bladed a wedge past the hole and three-putted for bogey. He birdied Nos. 8 and 11 to get to 5 under, then hit his drive on the par-5 14th hole into the driving range and made bogey.
Even though he birdied the par-5 No. 18, it was a missed opportunity as he left himself a two-putt from 40 feet after coming out of a 7-iron on his second shot.
“If I hit a good tee ball on every par-5 out here it’s an eagle or a birdie almost every time,” Cole said. “I played them even par, it’s not like I was 3 or 4 over on the par-5s, but those were the only two bogeys I had.”
Until Cole came home, the talk of the round surrounded McKinney. The 17-year-old Faith Christian senior shot his personal best score on the course in blustery conditions. He had six birdies and two bogeys.
He birdied his first two holes, gave a stroke back on the par-3 third, then knocked in 15-foot birdies on 7 and 8 to turn in 3-under par. He bogeyed 10, but recovered the stroke with a 30-foot birdie on 11. He closed out the round with a five-foot birdie at 18.
“I struck the ball well, but mostly it was the way I putted,” he said. “I had 11 putts on the front side. I felt like when I stepped up to any putt I had a chance to make it and I ended up making a lot of them.
“If you’re putting well that usually equals a good round and it turned out to be a really good round for me.”
McKinney’s previous best on the George Cobb-designed layout was 69 twice. That was the number he had in mind when he arrived at the course and figured three 69s might be good enough to win it all.
If he did that last year, he would have lost to Wigington by one.
All three contenders for Calhoun County Golf Tour Player of the Year stayed within sight of each other. Wigington holds a 37.5-point lead over Chandler and a 55-point lead over McGatha. If any of the three win the tournament, that golfer wins the POY award.
Wigington appeared in danger of falling way back, but eagled the par-5 18th to climb back in the chase. He chipped in after hitting a 5-iron into the right fringe.
“You don’t want to blow it on the first day,” he said. “You just want to keep yourself in it and hope to play good the last two days. The first day I just kind of got it around and got it in. I didn’t just kill myself. Hopefully (today) you play better, make some putts and make some better shots.”
Chandler climbed into contention by playing the back in 33, closing it out with birdies on 17 and 18. He birdied three of his last six holes.
“I kept myself in it,” he said. “I had a chance to make a couple more (birdies). Early the greens were really slow when they were wet and I left some really good putts short in the hole … but I’m right in there with them. Overall, not great, but I’m still in it.”
Lance Evans moved to the top of the leaderboard by going out in 33 and getting it to 4 under through 11. But he double bogeyed 13 and finished 1 under for the day.
“I couldn’t handle the pressure,” he said. “I’m never in that position too much so I didn’t know how to act.
“I started playing better, started thinking too much, and if you’re not in that position a lot (it can affect you).”
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.