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Hot Harrell charges in front of City after first round

Aaron Harrell cracks a tee shot during the first round of the Men’s City Championship at Otis Park. Harrell grabbed the lead with a 3-under 69.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – Aaron Harrell started his title defense with some stumbles, found his footing, and sprinted to the front of the field – again – during the first round of the 2019 Men’s City Championship.

Harrell, who crushed everyone with a record-setting score of 22-under 266 – winning wire-to-wire by a whopping 24 strokes – and blitzed Otis Park with 27 birdies, ruffled the grand ol’ Lady’s pristine hairdo with a hair-on-fire late charge to a 3-under 69 on Saturday morning.

Harrell, the former Bedford North Lawrence and Indiana University standout, birdied three consecutive holes on the back nine to break away from a hole-by-hole tussle with recent BNL All-Stater Ethan Stanley to take command as he chases his third City crown.

After carding four bogeys during the first 12 holes, Harrell roared to the lead with birdies on 15-17, creating some early working margin over Stanley (71) and Ken Steward (72) with 54 holes left to navigate.

Harrell, whose golf tends to take a backseat to life circumstances, made a last-week decision to compete, and he was back in usual form. His bogeys (except for a rare wayward tee shot behind a tree on the 8th) were blamed on the putter after three short-range misses cost him shots. But that stick made amends with the hot surge on the back nine.

“The putter got hot,” Harrell said. “It was just a good finish.

“I didn’t really know what to expect. It was like last year, I just take each day as it comes and not worry about the end results. I walk up to every shot and try to hit the best shot I can, not worry about where it goes. That’s my mindset, and has been for a while.”

Once he tinkered with a swing adjustment to stop an annoying left pull on the opening holes, Harrell was almost always dead straight. Stanley could only watch in admiration. “He was automatic,” he said.

Former BNL star Ethan Stanley posted a 1-under 71 during the opening round.

But so was Stanley, who suffered a double-bogey on the treacherous par-3 third hole and erased that misstep with four birdies to stay within striking range. He recovered with birdies on 6 and 9, bogeyed the 11th, then nearly matched Harrell’s flash with his own birdies on 15 and 17.

“I didn’t really do much all day,” Stanley said. “It was kind of a boring round. I left some shots out there, but I’m pretty happy to get under par. I’m happy Aaron didn’t go super-low today, and I hope to play better tomorrow. I think I can put up a better number.

“I was just going to see how he was playing, trying to stay with him or get ahead if I could. We’re sitting fine right now. There’s a long way to go.”

That last statement is definitely accurate. But last year, Harrell was machine-like with his game while the field sputtered like a gas-starved engine. He was a trio of missed par putts from another sensational round, similar to the carnage-creating 66-70-64-66 caning he administered to the course and field a summer ago. That 64 was a tournament-course record. He is certainly capable of a repeat performance.

“You definitely can’t win the tournament on the first day, but you can shoot yourself out of it,” Harrell said. “So it’s good to be where I am. We’ll take it and go from there.”

Sunday’s second round will begin at 7 a.m.