Bray's Keith Nolan opened with a three under par 69 to share 16th place after the first round of the Athens Regional Foundation Classic in Georgia.

And that left the former Walker Cup star just three shots behind leaders Rich Barcelo, Michael Putnam, Geoffrey Sisk, Greg Owen of England and Argentina's Sebastian Fernandez who fired 6-under-par 66s.

Barcelo, a 32-year old Las Vegas resident, grabbed the clubhouse lead by two in the morning session, but then a host of players from the afternoon wave closed the gap. Barcelo got to 6 under after a trio of birdies to open the back nine, but played the final six holes in even par.

Fernandez and Putnam finished within minutes of each other in the afternoon and were quickly followed by Sisk and Owen, who helped jam the top of the leaderboard.

Alex Prugh, also playing in the afternoon, is alone in sixth place, one shot back. Nine others are logged together at 4 under par. The par-72 Jennings Mill Country Club course played to a scoring average 73.006, with 63 players in the field of 156 posting par-or-better scores.

The five-way tie for the lead is the most players to share a first-round lead since last year's Oregon Classic, where eight players were tied after 18 holes, matching the Tour record.

Barcelo has made only one cut in four starts this season with a tie for 55th at the Mexico Open in early February his only weekend of play. Despite the negative numbers, he hasn't gotten discouraged.

"Statistically, I've been seeing myself improve but unfortunately the results haven't shown that," he said after hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation. "I've had to tell myself that I'm doing the right things. I'm getting better and that's all I can do. You feel like you're getting better, but the results aren't showing. It's frustrating, but you have to remind yourself to be patient. It's a long season."

Fernandez, a native of Buenos Aires, has made four of six cuts in his rookie season on Tour. A 34-year-old who has spent the past four years on the European Tour and the European Challenge Tour, Fernandez got off to a quick start with an eagle and three birdies in his first five holes.

"I play very good today. I play good on the greens and good on the tees," said Fernandez, who was perfect with his tee shots (14 of 14) and needed only 23 putts. "I am trying to tournament by tournament and day by day. I just want to get better."

His initial season in the United States has proven to be an early success, even though most of his better play has come outside the country. He tied for 24th at the season-opening Panama Movistar Championship and tied for fifth at the weather-plagued HSBC New Zealand PGA Championship. His results have pushed him to No. 30 on the money list.

"It was really an average round," said Putnam. "I had a couple of tap-ins, a 15-footer here and a 30-footer there at the end to tie for the lead. It kind of jumped out at me. This is a good, solid course you can score on. I expected someone to be 7 or 8 under."

Owen's route to the top came via four birdies on the par 5s, while Sisk went the other route, birdieing three of the four par 3s.
Australian Steve Bowditch is one of the players at 68, his first sub-par score in six starts this year. Bowditch comes into the week 0-for-5 in cuts made and a season scoring average of 76.4.

"It just hasn't been happening for me this year," he said. "My swing was good for the most part. It was just the last foot or so at impact that was causing the problem. My hands were just too high."

Bowditch spent some time on the range Wednesday with his coach and hopes he's adjusted his swing back to the point it was in 2005, when he won one tournament and finished the year No. 4 on the money list.

"I've been too intense on the golf course, there's been too much pressure on everything," he said. "My grip pressure, the pace of my walk, not taking long enough on shots, not analyzing each shot. It was all bad. Today was pretty good."

Thursday was a complete change for Bowditch who was hitting 35.71% of his fairways and only 47.22% of his greens in regulation prior to the start of his day.