WALLA WALLA - Professional Jason Aichele of Meadow Springs Country Club in Richland leads the Northwest Open after firing a first round score of 6-under-par 66 Monday at the Wine Valley Golf Course.
Two other professionals and a pair of amateur players are deadlocked in second place with matching 68s, just two strokes off the pace.
Rob Gibbons of Arrowhead Golf Course in Mollala, Ore., and Brandon Kearney of Bend Golf and Country Club in Bend, Ore., are the two professionals in hot pursuit of the lead along with amateurs Dan Whitaker of Ellensburg Golf and Country Club in Ellensburg, and Michael Haack of Meridian Valley Country Club in Kent, Wash.
Five golfers are tied at 69, three strokes back, on the par-72 links-style course that is in its second year of operation. Among those at 69 is Elijah Perkins, an assistant pro at Wine Valley.
Also shooting 69 during Monday's first round of the 54-hole event are Ryan Benzel of Everett, Mark Gardner of Spokane, Chris Griffin of Tacoma and amateur Mike O'Keefe of Snoqualmie.
Another seven players are logjammed at 70, two strokes better than par and four off the pace. That group includes Steve Stull of Richland, the former head golf professional at the Walla Walla Country Club.
Amateur Erik Hanson, a former left-handed pitcher for the Seattle Mariners, is one of seven players who finished at 71. Mike Hegarty of Wildhorse Resort at Mission, Ore., is also in at 71.
No fewer than 12 players were grouped at 1-over 73. Among them are Brady Sharp, an assistant golf professional at the Walla Walla Country Club, and amateur Jim Pliska, who plays his golf at Wine Valley.
Scott Larsen, a Walla Walla amateur, shot 74, and John Thorsnes, the head golf pro at Wine Valley, carded a 78.
The Northwest Open continues today with tee times beginning at 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. off the No. 1 and No. 10 tees. The top 70 finishers after today's round qualify for Wednesday's final round.
Northwest Open leaders
Jason Aichele, Richland 66
Michael Haack, (a). Kent 68
Dan Whitaker, (a) Ellensburg 68
Brandon Kearney, Bend 68
Rob Gibbons, Mollala, Ore. 68
Ryan Benzel, Everett 69
Mike O'Keefe, (a) Snoqualmie 69
Elijah Perkins, Walla Walla 69
Mark Gardner, Spokane 69
Chris Griffin, Tacoma 69
Scott Krieger, Portland 70
Brian Thornton, Kent 70
Steve Stull, Richland 70
Lon Hinkle, Big Fork, Mont. 70
Cameron Whittle, (a) Moses Lake 70
Michael Kloenne, Portland 70
Rob Clark, Wenatchee 70
Greg Smith, Willow Lake 71
Jeff Bender, Kennewick 71
Darek Franklin, Salem, Ore. 71
Brent Murray, Lake Oswego 71
Erik Hanson (a), Seattle 71
Bob Rannow, Florence, Ore. 71
Mike Hegarty, Pendleton 71
Josh Immordino, Kent 72
Brandon Thompson, Newberg, Ore. 72
Louie Runge, Raymond, Wash. 72
Jim Dunlap, Jim (a), Portland 72
Tyler Wong, Bellingham 72
Justin Bos, Sunnyside 72
Gordon Corder, Spokane 72
Mike Toll, Renton 72
Brad Hansen, Blanchard, Idaho 73
Ryan Malby, Kalispell, Mont. 73
Jeff Coston, Blaine, Wash. 73
Casey McCoy, The Dalles, Ore. 73
Keith Crimp, (a) Ellensburg 73
Jerry Johnson, Olympia 73
Dan Ostrin, Bend, Ore. 73
Jim Pliska (a), Walla Walla 73
Adam Syverson, Spokane 73
Todd O'Neal, Washougal, Wash. 73
Brady Sharp, Walla Walla 73
Chris Isaacson, Tri-Cities 73