Chip Spratlin spotted the field two strokes, but it didn't keep him off the top of the leaderboard during Saturday's first round of the Tillinghast Invitational golf tournament.
Spratlin overcame a two-stroke penalty for hitting the wrong ball on the first hole and shot a four-under-par 68 at Johnson City Country Club, putting him in a tie for the lead with Bryan Sangid and Ben Campbell.
Spratlin was grouped with his good friend and former Auburn teammate Tommy Miller. They both hit the fairway on the first hole with good drives.
Spratlin said he hadn't outdriven Miller "in 15 years," so when he arrived at the first ball, he figured it was his. They were both playing Titleist Pro-V1X balls, and both marked their ball with a black dot.
After Spratlin hit the green, Miller did the same. It was only when they got to the putting surface that they realized what had happened. They had hit each other's ball.
"That's how our day got started," Spratlin said.
So after taking a two-stroke penalty, they both went back and played from the proper places. And they minimized the damage by both hitting the green and making the putts for bogeys.
"That had never happened to either one of us," Spratlin said. "I've never done that in my life. I think it was good it was the first hole and I had no expectations. I just thought 'We'll just see what happens.' "
What happened was Spratlin went on to birdie the second, getting back to even par despite the two-stroke penalty. He added five more birdies and survived thanks to some solid putting to put himself in position to win this tournament for a fourth time.
"I didn't hit it really solid," Spratlin said. "But I made a lot of putts and I hit my wedges good. If I had anything more than a wedge in my hand, I didn't hit a good shot. I made every putt I had from 6-7 feet. If you hit your wedges good and make some putts, it'll be OK out here."
Spratlin will be joined in the final group by three players who know how to win. Sangid has won a handful of local invitationals, including the East Tennessee Amateur. Campbell won last year's Tri-Cities Amateur championship at the Country Club of Bristol. Lowe is a former winner of the East Tennessee Amateur as well.
Sangid and Lowe have each led this tournament after the first day before.
Lowe was four under par through 15 before a three-putt bogey at the 16th hole dropped him to three under.
"I didn't know what to expect because I haven't been playing much," said Lowe, whose wife Jamie gave birth to a son, Ryker, six weeks ago. "That's kept me off the golf course, so I'll take it."
The four scores in the 60s led a group of nine golfers who broke par in the first round.
Bobby Treadway and Chris Schmidt both shot 70, while Ross Miller, Dan Crockett and Matthew Brittain each posted a 71.
There was a logjam atop the senior leaderboard. Mike Freels, the reigning Tennessee State Senior champion, was in a group at 70 that also included Bill Hardin, Marc Runyan and Mike Wood. Hardin, a former runner-up here, is making his first Tillinghast appearance as a senior.
Doug LeVan also broke par with a 71.
Spratlin is already the only player to win three Tillinghast titles, having taken three in a row from 2009-11.
"If I can keep it in play and putt like I did today, I'll be OK tomorrow," he said. "If I don't, then I'll be in trouble because I don't have a lot of confidence in my golf swing. Give me a chance with three or four holes to go and let's see what happens."
The final group is scheduled to tee off today at 1:50 p.m.
The tournament is sponsored by Johnson City Honda.