The opening round of the Stroke Play Championship being held at Keene Country Club is in the books with two of the state’s top senior competitors leading the field at one-under par, 71. Craig Steckowych (Portsmouth CC) and Mike Blair (Bretwood GC) lead the way after the first round and will look to fend off the strong competitors following close behind as they head to round two of the tournament.

Steckowych has been in this position plenty of times before, including claiming two Stroke Play Championship titles (2000 and 2007). He went out and fired one of his most consistent rounds of golf which included a staggering 15 pars over the course of the round. He made one birdie on his front on the par-4, fifth hole at Keene Country Club to make the turn at one-under par. From there, he bogeyed the 14th hole but followed it up with a birdie on the 15th to keep his back nine to even-par, finishing off the day at one-under par, 71.

He came in with the low round early on, but saw that Blair had a great round going based on his score at the turn. Steckowych now heads to the second round of the competition tied at the top with Blair at one-under par.

For Blair, he has not claimed a win in the Stroke Play Championship, but certainly knows Keene Country Club suits his game. It also helps that he is from the Keene area, so having that local knowledge really gives him an advantage over the rest of the field.

“I started out strong,” said Blair following his round. “I started with birdie-birdie and played really solid on the front. Despite of my short distance off the tee, I was able to get the ball in the hole pretty well.”

Blair’s front nine included five birdies and just two bogeys, making the turn at three-under par and making a statement to the rest of the field that he was planning to go low in this tournament. He took full advantage of how well the greens were rolling and got his putting working for him to earn those birdies.

While Blair says he struggled a little bit on the back nine, he held it together well with just two bogeys and seven pars to finish his round tied with Steckowych at one-under par, 71.

“The thing I think that was good today was having two siblings here who have never come to see me play golf,” Blair said. “They certainly brought me some good luck because I putted really well on the front.”

With his family watching on, he earned his spot at the top of the leaderboard beside Steckowych. Blair enjoys the fact that Keene Country Club is not the lengthiest golf course in the state, so he takes advantage of being able to hit the greens in regulation and make the necessary putts.

Heading to the second round, Blair hopes to continue to putt the way he did in round one.

He said, “That makes the big difference for me. I can make up for some not so great shots with good putts.”

Blair and Steckowych have strong competitors on their heels with 36 holes left in the competition. Two players will they need to keep an eye on are Jim Cilley (Laconia CC) and Matt Burroughs (Derryfield CC).

Cilley shot a respectable one-over par, 73 while Burroughs was just one shot back of Cilley at 74 (+2). Both players have plenty of experience in tournaments like this and know what it takes to get a victory, so they should not be counted out as the tournament continues.

— New England Golf Association