FARMINGTON — After winning the San Juan Open last year, Jim Knous wasted no time in staking his claim as one of the elite professional golfers of this year's field.
The Basalt, Colo., native posted a 7-under-par 64 today at the San Juan Country Club. When play resumes Friday for the second day of the 52nd annual pro tournament, Knous will start with a one-stroke lead over 2011 winner Ryan Dillon.
On a 97-degree day in Farmington, a sluggish start plagued last year's champion. Knous started his day on the back nine, and said he didn't get comfortable until he was about five holes in, when he scored a birdie and an eagle on consecutive holes.
"I bogeyed the 10th hole, which was my first hole, and I really didn't hit any good shots until about the 14th," Knous said. "I started making some putts as the day went on. I just made a couple 15-18 footers that helped me out, and helped me take advantage of the par 5s."
Knous cleaned up on the course's four par-5 holes, where he shot a combined 5-under par. He said his plan is to avoid thinking too much on the course over the next three days.
"I just want to kind of take things easy. It's hard not to kind of force birdies out here, because you know you need them," Knous said. "But I'm having fun right now, I just want to take it easy and stay relaxed."
Behind Knous and Dillon on the pro leaderboard is Mason Mallory, who shot a 66 for third place. Braden Baer, Riley Arp, Derek Fribbs and San Juan Country Club head professional Jeff Roth are mired in a four-way tie for fourth, each shooting a 68 on the first day.
Roth, who said he knows the country club course like the back of his hand, teed off today after having just qualified for the U.S. Senior Open on Monday in Albuquerque. He didn't shoot as well as he would have liked, he said, after hopping out to a quick start.
"I birdied (hole) one, and I birdied three, four, five, and then kind of hung on at the end," he said. "I need to do a little better hitting the ball from tee to the green."
Since moving from Michigan in 2010, Roth has competed in the Open in each of the seven years he's lived in Farmington. Although this year's tournament boasts a talented field of golfers, he thinks there's a clearer path to the title than there's been in recent years.
"We lost a few really good players who qualified for the Web.com Tour in Kansas," Roth said. "I think everybody kind of moves up a little bit now."
Zahkai Brown, Nate Lashley and Derek Tolan, who won the Open in 2009, all qualified for the Web.com Tour in Overland Park, Kan.
Rick Simmons fired a 3-over-par 74 today to come away with a one-stroke lead in the amateur championship flight. Joel Atson and Max Moreland shot a team score of 58, the best of any duo in the pro-sponsor standings. Knous and partner Eric Lien are one stroke behind them.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.