By Brad Ziemer

KELOWNA — The putter hasn’t been Etienne Brault’s friend for much of the Mackenzie Tour season, but that changed in Wednesday’s first round of the GolfBC Championship.

He and his flatstick are buddies again.

“I putted great today,” Brault said after firing a six-under 65 at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf Club that gave the 25-year-old from Mercier, Que. the first-round lead. “That’s good because it has been my weakness so far this year. I have been hitting the ball great and have been wedging it okay and putting not so great. Today it was good to kind of flip it around.

“I didn’t feel too great about my ball-striking today. I missed a lot of greens compared to what I do normally, but I got it up and down and putted great. It was a great day.”

Brault has been Mr. Consistency on the Mackenzie Tour this season. He has made the cut in all six events to date, but knows he still needs a strong finish in the final two events to move into the top five and earn Mackenzie Tour status for next year. He began the week 19th on the points list.

His best results came on the east coast where he finished fifth and fourth in the two Prince Edwards Island events.

“I haven’t played as well in the last two events,” he said. “I made the cut, but finished like 52nd and 48th, so it is good to turn it around today and look for a good finish to the end of the season and get my Mackenzie Tour card for next season.”

Brault’s round was bogey-free and his only regret was not birdieing his final hole — the par 5 ninth — to shoot 64.

“I was a little disappointed to make par on 9 because I know my best round this year was a 65 and I had a chance to beat it,” he said. “I really wanted to shoot that 64, but I drove it off line and laid up and hit a good wedge. I missed a 12-footer for birdie, but it was a great round out there. I had so much fun.”

Brault enters Thursday’s second round of the 72-hole event one shot ahead of Australian Will Barnett, Yi Cao of Delta and Sang Lee of Calgary.

After playing his collegiate golf at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Brault turned pro in 2019.

“Then COVID hit so it was really tough,” he said. “It was depressing. I have been a pro for two years now and this is the first time I have had a full schedule. I really feel like a rookie. I feel like this is my first year, the first year I am gaining experience.”

Barnett, a transplanted Aussie who now calls Coquitlam home, had an interesting round. He lost his tee ball on the first hole and was three-over after five holes. He then had a little talk with himself and proceeded to turn things around in a big way.

Barnett, who tied for third at last week’s ATB Financial Classic in Calgary, recorded seven straight threes on holes 11 through 17 and shot 29 on the back nine.

“The first five holes, I was three-over and kind of told myself to pull it together and try and get under par for the rest of the round,” he said. “I birdied six and seven and then the back nine was pretty special. I actually missed a four-footer for birdie on 10 which would have given me eight threes in a row. But I’ll take seven any day.

“I’ve never ever done that, so it was nice. Obviously, I holed some putts but I was just hitting it close those seven holes. The longest putt I made during that stretch was on 17 and it was probably 15 or 16 feet.”

Cao plays out of Beach Grove Golf Club in Tsawwassen, where his 10-under 61 stands as the course record. He won the points list on last summer’s four-event Canada Life Series. That earned him a spot in the 2021 RBC Canadian Open, which unfortunately was cancelled due to COVID restrictions.

“The Canada Life Series meant a lot to me,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to prove to myself that I can still compete and I can still win tournaments.”

Lee posted his bogey-free 66 late in the day. His best result this season has been a seventh-place finish at the Elk Ridge Open in Saskatchewan.

“I have been tied for the lead a couple of times in other events and haven’t been able to pull it off yet,” he said. “But hopefully this is the week.”

CHIP SHOTS: Brendan Leonard of Cambridge, Ont. is alone in fifth place after opening with a four-under 67. The eight players tied for sixth at three-under include Callum Davison of Duncan, Steven Lucuyer of Vancouver, Ilirian Zalli of Vancouver and Cole Wilson of Kelowna. . .Mackenzie Tour points leader Noah Steele of Kingston, Ont. opened with a three-over 74.