HALIFAX — Calgary’s Stephen Ames promised to be a gracious host before launching his opening drive at the Telus World Skins Game.
Jhonattan Vegas made himself right at home, grabbing five skins and $85,000 over Monday’s front nine at Glen Arbour Golf Course.
The 27-year-old defending champion from Venezuela rolled to the first day lead, followed by Ames, Northern Ireland’s Paul Casey and 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover with one skin each for $15,000.
The ninth hole carried over for when play resumes Tuesday.
“(Ames) said he’d let us win because he’s such a nice guy as the Canadian,” Vegas said from the course, although he offered more specific analysis afterward.
“It was a great day.
“I was lucky enough to make a few more (shots) than they did. I usually make a lot of birdies — and a lot of bogeys as well — so I’m pretty good at this kind of game.”
Glover’s dry South Carolina accent offered a different perspective on Vegas’ success.
“I make him very comfortable (at these events),” Glover said.
The only player to get blanked on the opening day was Sweden’s Carl Pettersson, who made his Skins debut against the four who competed at last year’s event. Anthony Kim rounded out the 2011 field.
“It’s tough to be the rookie,” Pettersson lamented on his first experience. “Hopefully I don’t get shut out and pick a couple skins up tomorrow.”
The players fed off the large and enthusiastic gallery, wearing sunny smiles on a postcard-perfect summer day in Halifax.
While the event was a little more subdued without the boisterous comedic stylings of past entries like John Daly, the five amiable pros carried on just fine for the crowd.
Vegas asked to borrow Ames’ driver after admiring his strong tee shot on the fourth hole.
Ames leaned directly over a crouching Casey to help read a putt on an earlier green.
Vegas later found himself in trouble and performed some lighthearted crowd control before his wedge from the gallery.
After Glover discovered his driver was broken, he finished up the round with Casey’s backup club.
For Ames, his role as Canadian host will be followed by a lengthy break this summer.
He plans to take two months off following the event. While the group has an easy chemistry from last year’s Skins, Ames seems especially inclined to help out Vegas.
“Jonathan and I lived just across the water from one another growing up,” joked Ames, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago.
The morning’s Celebrity Pro-Am Challenge featured actor Kevin Costner.
The “Tin Cup” star didn’t divulge his score on the front nine, but summed it up as “six or seven really good holes, and then these other two that make you want to give up the game.”
He did hit one errant shot that struck a lady in the hip off a bounce, but turned on the charm to get out of trouble.
Notes: Vegas finished last year’s event at The Fairmont Springs Golf Course in Banff, with seven skins and $140,000. … He took the only two carry over skins decided on Monday, winning $30,000 on the second hole and $40,000 on the seventh. … The golfers raised $25,000 for the IWK Health Centre Foundation in Halifax with eagles and birdies over the front nine. … The first six holes were all worth $15,000, followed by $20,000 for the next three. The stakes increase to $25,000 for the final six holes of Tuesday’s back nine.