Anthony Paolucci shot a 6-under 66 Saturday to take a three-stroke lead after the first round of the AJGA Thunderbird International.
“It’s a very strong field at every Invitational and we know we have to shoot a score,” said Paolucci, No. 12 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings. “If you have a conservative mindset, you’re not going to do it. You might place well but you’re not going to be able to win.”
Paolucci, the 2008 Junior PGA Champion and runner-up at the ’07 U.S. Junior, is three shots ahead of Cameron Wilson, Oliver Schniederjans and Jordan Spieth, who last week posted a top-20 finish at the PGA Tour’s HP Byron Nelson Championship. Spieth mixed six birdies with three bogeys during his round of 3-under 69 at the Grayhawk Golf Club (Raptor Course) in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I am disappointed right now just because of the finish,” said Spieth, who bogeyed the 17th hole and made par on the par-5 finishing hole. “Overall it’s a good start, I’m happy with the start and the way I finished. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”
Justin Thomas, the Terra Cotta Invitational champion, and Patrick Cantlay, Golfweek’s No. 2-ranked junior, are among the six players tied for fifth at 2 under.
Grayson Murray, who last week made the cut on the Nationwide Tour, shot 75 in the opening round. Defending champion Daniel Lee carded a 76 and is tied for 32nd in the 48-player field.
“It’s my first time playing desert golf, so my eye is still not used to it and it just takes a little time to adjust,” Murray said. “I think the main thing is just to stay patient out there and know you can make birdies.”
Paolucci was even par before eagling the par-5 seventh, when he stuck his second shot to 5 feet. He proceeded to birdie Nos. 9, 12, 16 and 18 to finish at 6 under. The sixth-ranked player in the Class of 2011, Paolucci has given a verbal commitment to USC.
Rachel Morris, of Carlsbad, Calif., shot 1-under 71 to lead the girls division. She has a one-stroke lead over Yueer Cindy Feng, Stephanie Meadow, Kristen Park and Ashlan Ramsey. Victoria Tanco, who earlier this week supplanted Alexis Thompson as the No. 1 player in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, shot 73. She won the first invitational of the calendar year, the Annika Invitational, in mid-February.
“I usually play well here and I think the experience helps a lot because I know the course pretty well,” said Morris, who finished fourth at last year’s Thunderbird. “I just feel comfortable here since I’ve played it for so long, but you still have to play well. … I felt like I could have gone a lot lower because I had a lot of chances for birdie. I’m in it and that was the goal for the first day – just to put myself in good position, so I’m happy.”
Information from the AJGA was used in this report.