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By Steve Brandon/Portland Tribune/Alabama golfer, No. 2 in season points, takes two-shot lead after first round at Pumpkin Ridge

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - The 18th green and fans around it await the golfers during Thursday's first round of the WinCo Foods Portland Open at Pumpkin Ridge.NORTH PLAINS — There's Iron Byron, a few guys like Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods in their prime … and now Robby Shelton.

OK, it was only one day of the WinCo Foods Portland Open at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, but Shelton was a machine from tee to green to hole on Thursday.

The 23-year-old from Wilmer, Alabama shot 5-under on each side of the Witch Hollow course for a bogey-free, 10-under 61.

He tied the tournament record and seized a two-stroke lead over Jimmy Stanger.

David Lingmerth, Greg Yates, Tyson Alexander and Vince India share third at 64, with three rounds to go.

"I was really solid today," said Shelton, who played for the Crimson Tide from 2013-16, then turned pro.

Already this year on the Korn Ferry Tour, Shelton has won two events. He captured the Nashville Golf Open on May 5, in a playoff with Scottie Scheffler, to secure his PGA Tour card for next season. He came back two weeks later with a victory in the Knoxville Open.

At No. 2 in Korn Ferry Tour points he has a chance to vault to the top spot on Sunday, the final day of the $800,000 WinCo.

Winning this week and becoming No. 1 and getting the bump to fully exempt PGA Tour status "is the goal," he said after his round.

The top spot in the Korn Ferry point standings belongs to Xinjun Zhang, 32, of China. He opened with a par 71 at Pumpkin Ridge and was tied for 107th.

Zhang leads Shelton by 232 points; first place this week is worth 600 points.

Shelton was 10-under over his final 15 holes on a cool (high of 71, overcast) Thursday. He hit all 18 greens.

This is the sixth year of the WinCo, with every event played at Pumpkin Ridge, and the only other 61s came from Ted Potter Jr. in 2016 and Derek Ernst in 2018.

Neither went on to win, but Shelton said he believes it's possible to keep up his torrid pace — which would mean shattering the tourney record of 20-under set in 2015 by Dicky Pride.

"You don't think about the number, you just think about birdies and know these guys are going to go low," Shelton said.

Shelton said pivotal shots for him included a 206-yard 5-iron that set up a four-foot birdie putt on the par-4 ninth hole, a 9-iron to the 150-yard 12th that landed a couple of inches right of the hole and rolled six inches past — and a bunch of mostly short birdie putts, all within 20 feet.

"Getting that birdie (on 9) was huge. That's one of the hardest holes out there," he said. "I carried it over to the back nine."

The near-ace on No. 12 "got the crowd going for sure," he said.

He said he wasn't sure about his game because he had been away from the tour for two weeks "and your first tournament back is always a little scary."

The key to his year?

"I've got to give it to the Scotty I put in the bag in Prattville," he said of the new Scotty Cameron BMX putter he switched to in mid-April, two weeks before his first victory. "After Prattville, it's been hot. It just fits my eye perfectly."

Stanger, 24 and a former University of Virginia golfer from Tampa, Florida, has a chance to move up from 41st in season points into the top 25 with a first or second this week — and the top 25 after Sunday's play will get PGA Tour cards for 2019-20. His 63 on Thursday was his best ever on the Korn Ferry Tour.

Neither Shelton nor Stanger has had success at Pumpkin Ridge. Shelton missed the cut last year, and Stanger finished bogey-par a year ago to finish 78th for the season — just out of the top-75 cutoff point that qualifies golfers for another full year on the Korn Ferry Tour.

"I still remember leaving this place in tears last year," Stanger said.

NOTES: Scott Harrington, the 38-year-old former Jesuit High golfer and Eugene native, came in with a 67. Robert Garrigus, a former Crescent Valley High golfer, shot 68. Rookie Norman Xiong from the University of Oregon withdrew before teeing off. Dylan Wu, from St. Mary's High in Medford, had a 71. Brock Mackenzie, a Coos Bay native and ex-Washington Husky, turned in a 70. … Gates open at 7 a.m. every day of the tournament. Friday's tee times go from 7 a.m. to 2:26 p.m.


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