Wilfong, Irving Share Lead After Round 1 October 7, 2017 | Atlanta, Ga. By Brian DePasquale, USGA

Joshua Irving found comfort on the greens at Atlanta National G.C. in carding a 3-under 68 in Saturday's first round of stroke play. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Chad Wilfong, 37, of Charlotte, N.C., and Joshua Irving, 31, of Dallas, Texas, each shot 3-under par Saturday to share the lead after the first round of stroke play in the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. Wilfong carded a 67 at the par-70, 7,207-yard Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course, while Irving fashioned a 68 at the par-71, 6,784-yard Atlanta National Golf Club, which is serving as the championship’s stroke-play co-host.

Wilfong, who is playing in his first USGA championship after competing on the Nationwide Tour (now Web.com) from 2003-06, posted a bogey-free round at Capital City Club-Crabapple.

“I had pretty good control over the driver, which on this course you need,” said Wilfong, who regained his amateur status in August of 2016 and played for Wake Forest University. “I didn’t make any mistakes and when I missed a green I missed them in the right spots. It allowed me to get up and down without a whole lot of stress.”

Wilfong rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt on the par-3 sixth hole and finished off his opening nine by striking a 6-iron approach to within 8 feet to set up another birdie. He used a 60-degree wedge to get up and down from in front the green for his third birdie at the 537-yard, par-5 12th.

“I miss the competition,” said Wilfong about his return to the championship golf. “I don’t necessarily miss the mini-tours and grind, but I always miss teeing it up with the guys and just seeing what you’ve got.”

Irving, who advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2015 and 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateurs, recorded four birdies in six holes during his outward nine. He sank putts of 5 and 6 feet on holes 15 and 16, respectively, and holed a 25-footer on No. 17.

“The greens are so good out here, that you know you’re going to make a lot of putts,” said Irving, who ended his round on the par-4 ninth by saving par from a greenside bunker. “It was just kind of hit good shots and I knew the putts were going to fall if I was getting them on line.”

Bradford Tilley, 34, of Easton, Conn., and Justin Kaplan, 29, of Houston, Texas, each carded a 69 at Atlanta National and are among four players at 2-under par. Tilley posted five birdies and two bogeys. Kaplan overcame a shaky start by birdieing three of his last five holes.

Tilley, who played in the morning’s first group off of the 10th tee, reeled off three consecutive birdies on holes 15, 16 and 17 to jump-start his round. He got up and down from in front of the green on the drivable par-4 16th and fired an 8-iron to within 3 feet on the 144-yard, par-3 17th.

“It’s a very demanding course,” said Tilley, who played in three U.S. Amateurs and spent eight years in the professional ranks. “You have to plot your way around very carefully. There’s a lot of places where it looks like you can take advantage, but you can get off line very easily.”

Kaplan, who was a quarterfinalist with partner Scott Loving in this year’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, made a 20-foot, double-breaking birdie putt on No. 14 to ignite his surge. He hit a wedge to within 3 feet on No. 16 and added a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 17.

“The whole plan was to play conservative,” said Kaplan, who made a 10-footer for par on his final hole after finding the right greenside bunker with his approach. “It’s kind of target golf. I made a real good putt [on No. 14] and that gave me a little confidence.”

Justin Kaplan played 3-under-par golf over his final 11 holes on Saturday in shooting a 2-under 69 at Atlanta National. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Austin Smith, 26, of Belmont, Mass., and Philip Walker, 48, of England, were also at 2-under with a pair of 68s at Capital City Club-Crabapple. Smith, who qualified for his first USGA championship and played for NCAA Division III Gettysburg College, birdied three of five holes on his outward nine.

Smith, who works in sales for a computer data center, started his round with a bogey on the par-4 10th, but then picked up birdies on both inward nine par-3s, holes 13 and 15. He delivered a 5-iron to within tap-in range on No. 15 and followed with a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 17.

Michael Muehr, 45, of Potomac Falls, Va., is among a group of eight players who are two strokes back at 1-under par. Muehr, a former PGA Tour professional who advanced to last year’s Mid-Amateur quarterfinals and is competing in his 18th USGA championship, had two birdies and one bogey en route to a 70 at Atlanta National.

Defending U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad, 26, of Newport Beach, Calif., posted a 2-over 73 at Atlanta National. Hagestad, who qualified for this year’s U.S. Open, tied for 36th in the Masters, and was a member of the winning USA Walker Cup Team last month, had a roller-coaster round that included five birdies and three double bogeys.

Nathan Smith, 39, of Pittsburgh, Pa., registered a 2-over 72 at Capital City Club-Crabapple. Smith, who owns a record four Mid-Amateur titles, opened with one birdie and three bogeys.

Brian DePasquale is the USGA’s manager of championship communications. Email him at bdepasquale@usga.org

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