Five share early lead at 2017 Western Amateur

) -- One of the marquee groups in the field at the 115th Western Amateur lived up to its billing in Tuesday’s opening round at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Illinois.

Dawson Armstrong, the 2015 Western Amateur champion, and Collin Morikawa, the 2013 Western Junior champion and No. 2-ranked amateur in the world, both carded 5-under 66s to share the lead with three others after the first day. Last year’s defending champion and Illinois senior Dylan Meyer, of Evansville, Indiana, made two bogeys over his final five holes to finish with a 72.

“It’s really nice to get to play with players like them and just build off of each other and get each other through the first two days,” said Armstrong, of Brentwood, Tennessee, and a senior at Lipscomb. “Hopefully, we will see each other in match play.”

Armstrong dug himself an early hole with a double bogey at No. 1, and his mind raced back to last year when he missed the 36-hole cut a year after his winning the title. But he responded with with birdies at Nos. 2-3. He then made three birdies and an eagle on the back nine to match the low round from the 2010 Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club.

“It feels really good to play a lot better golf than I did last year at Knollwood Club [in Lake Forest, Illinois],” he said. “I had a few thoughts of maybe having a run like last year where things just fell off the rails with the golf game. But I ended up rolling on in.”

Morikawa, of La Canada Flintridge, California and a junior at Cal-Berkeley, made birdies on all four par 5s and briefly got to 6 under with his birdie at No. 14. He lipped out a putt for birdie on the following hole, but he finished with a bogey at the 18th to shoot 66.

“A lot of good things happened today, and I’ll use that for the rest of the week,” he said. “I left a few shots out there, but that’s golf. I was happy to give myself a lot of looks. Today was a really solid day.”

Stephen Franken, of Raleigh, North Carolina, shot the lowest round in the morning groups with his 66. A junior at N.C. State, Franken said the key to his round was staying patient. A highlight of his round came at the 250-yard, par-3 16th. On a hole that produced its share of big numbers, he hit a 3-iron to four feet and made birdie.

“That was kind of my word today,” he said. “I kept the ball in front of me, and luckily, I rolled in some putts.”

Ruben Sondjaja, of Sydney, Australia, and Nick Voke, of Auckland, New Zealand, also are among the leaders at 5 under. Eight players finished at 4 under, and seven more are two back of the leaders at 3 under. In all, 48 players shot under par in the first round.

NCAA Division I national champion from Ole Miss and world’s No. 1-ranked amateur Braden Thornberry, of Olive Branch, Mississippi, opened with 73. In his first appearance at the Western Amateur, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo shot 80.

The field will be cut to the low 44 and ties following Wednesday’s 18 holes of stroke play

- Matt Harness, WGA