Right on the 'money

TODD SAELHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

What's an Alberta Open without Wes Heffernan at the top of the leaderboard?

Well ... nobody can remember at Carnmoney Golf Club since the Calgary golfer has owned the annual Alberta Golf Association event the last three years.

And fresh off a British Open qualifying round Sunday in Dallas, Heffernan is again blowing away the field after yesterday's 9-under 63 during the first of three rounds in the 69th Open championship at the private club just southeast of the city.

"I didn't think I'd do this well," said the 32-year-old Heffernan, who shot a first-round 72 in British Open qualifying before withdrawing from the second round (figuring he was out of contention) and flying home early yesterday.

"I got home and I was pretty tired -- I didn't have a chance to shave.

"But I've been playing well lately -- a couple of 62s with my buddies at Silver Springs. And having said that, I'm pretty comfortable on this course, especially the last three years."

Fellow Calgarians Todd Halpen, James Love and Ryan Yip are in the hunt at 4-under 68, one shot back of second-place shooter Ryan Vallely of Medicine Hat.

"It feels awesome -- I'm not going to lie," said Vallely, 26, of his 5-under 67. "It's right where I always feel I should be. I'm out here to win, but this is unfamiliar for me. I haven't been in this position for a while."

Neither have most here at the Open, including Yip.

"Nothing really spectacular -- nothing really bad," said Yip, 24. "It's my first competition since a U.S. Open qualifier two weeks ago, so I'm definitely getting the rust off."

Indeed, while the rain stayed away -- a welcome turn of events compared to recent Open championships, especially the last two years at Carnmoney -- there was plenty of rust to be found in the 132-man field.

Outside Heffernan, of course.

That's because the prime contenders -- including Heffernan and nine fellow Canadian Tour stars, such as Mike Mezei, Kris Wasylowich and Stuart Anderson -- haven't hit a meaningful ball in more than a month.

The swine flu epidemic in Mexico postponed three CanTour events in that country, forcing them to be out of action -- for the most part -- in the four weeks leading up to the Open.

"There's some rust out there," said Love, another CanTour star contending for the Open title. "Kind of the reason you want to come to play this is to get some rounds in before getting back to the Canadian Tour. You get some rounds under your belt before the Tour starts up again in Victoria (next week).

"Bottom line, I'd rather be playing," Love continued. "We all showed flashes out there, but we were rusty.

"I could have been lower. But I'll take a 68 out there."

The consensus among the big shots here is a round of 10-under isn't out of reach at Carnmoney. Heffernan showed that, but otherwise, yesterday's opening round turned out to mostly be a tune-up for the contenders.

"A 69 with two eagles -- that's not good," said Edmonton's Barrett Jarosch, another CanTour kid from Alberta.

"Somebody should be able to shoot a 62 without doing something too special. You can hit eagles on every Par 5 here.

"And any good shots on Par 3s can take you really low."

Wasylowich, who chased Heffernan down to the final hole at last year's Open, also carded a 3-under 69.

Kevin Temple of Country Hills, Stony Plain's Jeff Murdoch and Cottonwood's Jamie Kureluk are all a stroke further back at 2-under 70.

The field will be cut to 48 and ties after today's round.

"We're all talking about (ganging up on Heffernan)," Love said. "Somebody has to beat Wes this year."


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