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Thursday, July 24 2014 @ 11:20 AM EDT

Klauk leads Nationwide Tour season opener in Panama by one over Dunlap

Golfers & GolfingBy Joe Chemycz for PGA.com - PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Jeff Klauk rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt from off the 18th green to finish up a 6-under-par 64 Thursday in the opening round of the Panama Movistar Championship, the first tournament on the 2008 Nationwide Tour schedule. His efforts put the St. Augustine, Fla., resident atop the leaderboard by one stroke after the initial 18 holes of the $600,000 event. Veteran Scott Dunlap (65) is alone in second place with Ben Bates, Brendon De Jonge and Pablo Acuna next in line with 66s at the Panama Golf Club. "I've just been ready to go," said Klauk, who was in the second group off the morning tee as the Tour began its 19th season. "It's been a long time since I've gotten off to a decent start. I just want to get to the next level." (more)

Klauk, a Nationwide Tour veteran with 152 career starts over the past six years, kicked off his year with a couple of pars before rolling in a 30-foot birdie putt at No. 3 and a 35-foot eagle putt at No. 4. He added three more birdies before the finishing hole, including one at the 502-yard, par-4 11th hole, which was the toughest hole on the par-70 course and played to a scoring average of 4.462.

"I wanted to come out and play like I did during the second half of last year," said Klauk, who made 11 cuts in his final 12 starts in 2007. "I want to keep that momentum going."

Klauk, a member of three NCAA Division II national championship teams at Florida Southern College, changed his off-season strategy and spent more time on the golf course and less on the driving range in hopes of improving his No. 34 money ranking from a year ago.

"I can sit on the range forever and just hit balls. I can get real technical and worry about my swing," he said. "It's all about scoring out here."

The biggest focus of Klauk's winter work was the short game. "If you look at all the great players on the PGA TOUR, they're awesome from 100 to 125 yards in," said Klauk. "That's the area I'm trying to get a lot better at. Out here on the Nationwide Tour, you've got to make a lot of birdies."

One additional benefit to Klauk was the agronomy change at TPC Sawgrass, where he practices on a regular basis and where his father, Fred, is the course superintendent.

"TPC doesn't overseed anymore and so it's all Bermuda grass now," he said. "Rather than hitting out of overseeded rye grass rough and such, I've gotten to prepare on Bermuda. I've never had that opportunity before because of the overseed. It's been a big help practicing on the same grass that we play on."

Klauk's 64 was one shot off the course record of 63 set by 2006 winner Tripp Isenhour in the first round. It was also the best round for Klauk at Panama Golf Club, where he is playing for the fifth consecutive year. He tied for ninth in the tournament's inaugural year (2004), but missed the cut the next two years and finished tied for 58th last year.

"I've been hitting the ball very well but my coach and I have been working on the mental side of the game," said Klauk, who missed the cut in his only PGA TOUR start, the 2003 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. "I had some shoulder surgery and some health issues the past couple of years and sometimes it's not easy to get your confidence back. A lot of it is just believing in yourself."

First-Round News & Notes: The 2008 Nationwide Tour season got underway at 7:10 Thursday morning with Daniel Summerhays hitting the first shot off the first tee. The initial threesome played prominent roles in the "firsts of 2008." Summerhays hit the first shot of the season, playing partner Tom Byrum made the first birdie of the year (No. 1) and the third member of the group, Bob Heintz, made the first eagle of the year (No. 4). ... Brent Geiberger withdrew prior to the start of the round (sickness) and was replaced by Canadian Brad Fritsch. ... Three of the tournament's four previous champions are in the field this week. Defending champ Miguel Carballo (72), 2006 winner Tripp Isenhour (72) and 2005 winner Vance Veazey (73). ... The first-round scoring average for the par-70 course was 72.865, making it the toughest opening round in the tournament's five-year history and the second-toughest overall (final round, 2004, 73.238).

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