Nick Mason figured his U.S. Open experience would put him at ease in other tournaments.
But a 61?
As the Saturday afternoon sun helped dry the rain-deluged fairways, Mason torched Hilo Municipal Golf Course with a 10-under for a five-stroke lead after the first round at the Hilo Invitational.
“Playing on the big stage definitely helped me relax,” said Mason, a former University of Hawaii at Hilo golfer who played in his first national championship in June. “You come out and feel more comfortable.”
Mason said he had a 59 in mind until a rare mistake on his second-to-last hole, No. 2.
“Absolutely, but you can never take a 61 for granted,” he said.
Mason’s personal-best is a 60, and he said his lowest round at Hilo Muni before Saturday was a 62.
He noted his score loses a little luster because tournament organizers allowed golfers to play preferred lies. They could lift, clean and place balls in the mud within a club length.
Former two-time champion Jarett Hamamoto, Hawaii Prep graduate Max Bonk and former University of Hawaii golfer Jared Sawada each turned in sterling rounds of their own with 66s. Then they learned they had a lot of work ahead of them when they tee off with Mason at 7:30 a.m. Sunday for the final 18 holes.
“Yeah, I was feeling really good,” Sawada said. “Then I found out about Nick Mason’s score. I wasn’t feeling as good anymore.”
Todd Rego was another shot back and the group at 68 included Hawaii Golf Hall of Famer Kevin Hayashi, the tournament co-chair.
Mason’s only bogey came when he three-putted on the par-4 No. 16. But he sank a 30-foot putt on No. 17, a par 5, for his first eagle. He made eagle again on No. 1.
“I think I missed one green (in regulation),” he said. “Eagles go along way toward a good round.”
Armed with a sizeable lead, Mason said he’d pick his spots Sunday without becoming too conservative as he seeks his fifth Hilo Invitational championship.
“I think you’ve got to definitely try to attack,” he said. “If someone makes an eagle, that’s two good players in Max and Jared behind me.”
Sawada’s only bogey came on No. 14, the only green he missed in regulation. A first-year pro playing in his second Hilo Invitational, he found the scoring conditions prime.
“You could hit in anywhere on the fairway,” he said. “Nick Mason, he’s a great player. I’m just going to do my thing. Second place here would be good.”
Eighteen players scored under par.
But Hayashi said the lift-clean-place rule would no longer be in effect Sunday, and he noted the results would be noticeable.
“I wanted low scores,” Hayashi said. “I wanted players to shoot low and have their rounds and everyone is happy. Sunday they won’t be able to touch (the ball). The scores will come up a little.”