Monday October 19th, 2020 10:44PM

Bulldogs grab early lead in NCAA Athens Regional

By Georgia Sports Communications

ATHENS — The No. 16-ranked Georgia men’s team fired an even-par 284 to grab the first-round lead at the NCAA Athens Regional at the UGA Golf Course on Monday. The Bulldogs are two shots ahead of No. 4 Vanderbilt, with 36 holes remaining.

Georgia will be paired with Vanderbilt and No. 9 Duke for Tuesday’s second round. The Bulldogs, Commodores and Blue Devils will tee of in waves between 7:30-8:14 a.m. from hole No. 1.

The Bulldogs began their day relatively slowly and played the first four holes at a combined 5-over as a team. Georgia rallied soon thereafter, making up four of those strokes before the turn and then scratching back to even-par on the day through No. 12. All told, the Bulldogs posted 13 birdies between Nos. 5-13. Georgia then covered the final six holes at even.

“The course familiarity is good, and it certainly helps, but the golf course played hard today,” Georgia head coach Chris Haack said. “It's just a great test of golf, and it showed its teeth today. We love being able to show it off, and I've had a lot of coaches come up say, ‘Man, what a great golf course’ and it is. It’s hard, it challenges you. The superintendent (Scott Griffith) and his staff did an awesome job getting in shape. It's beautiful out here.”

Junior Spencer Ralston and sophomore Davis Thompson paced Georgia with a pair of 2-under 69s on the par-71, 7253-yard layout for the Regional. Freshmen Trent Phillips and Will Kahlstorf supplied the Bulldogs’ other counting scores, signing for a 72 and a 74 respectively.

“It was playing long today, so I just kind of kept my head down,” Thompson said. “I just tried to make some birdies coming in, which I did. I was able to get it under par, which was good. It's just comfortable out here. Being on our home course, we've played it in every single condition possible.”

Overall, Ralston and Thompson are tied for second on the individual leaderboard, a shot off the pace of Brad Bawden of Memphis. Phillips is tied for 12th, Kahlstorf is tied for 32nd and Trevor Phillips, who posted a 75 on Friday, is tied for 42nd.

Ralston moved into red numbers with a birdie at No. 2 but double-bogeyed No 4, the lone blemish on his scorecard. He birdied Nos. 6 and 8 to turn at 1-under. Following six straight pars on the back side, Ralston sank a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 16 before wrapping up his day with a pair or pars.

Thompson’s loop was more of a back-and-forth effort. He bogeyed the first two holes of the day but birdied Nos. 5 and 7 to move back to even. A birdie-bogey-birdie sequence to start the back nine left Thompson at 1-under and additional birdies at Nos. 15 and 17 lowered that to 3-under before a closing with a bogey.

“I had a rough start the first two holes, but I knew there were going to be bogeys out there because the wind was blowing,” Thompson said. “I had four birdies and two bogeys on the back nine, so I was able to roll in some spots and take advantage of the par-5s today." 

Following Wednesday’s final round, the top-five teams and the low individual who is not a member of those teams will advance to the NCAA Championships, which will be on May 24-29 at The Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark. Trailing Georgia (284) and Vanderbilt (286) above the “cut line” for the NCAAs are Duke at 289, Tennessee at 290 and Memphis at 292. Liberty and Kentucky are tied for sixth at 294.

“It was a good start, but we’ve got two more rounds so we can't be celebrating yet,” Haack said. “We’ve just got to play steady for two more days and then we'll start worrying about the next level. But from what I saw, their attitudes were good and they were grinding. Usually it means good things when they're not complaining.”

“Leading up, I was really anxious to get out here and just play because it's our home course,” Thompson said. “We know the breaks and the ways all the holes go and all sorts of stuff, so just leading up, we just prepared the best we can and try to put these rounds together."

Also on Monday, Trent Phillips was chosen as one of the semifinalists for the 2019 Division I Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award presented by Barbasol. The winner will be announced on May 30.

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