PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Jim Liu is accustomed to leading big tournaments. Robby Shelton is getting there.
Liu and Shelton share the lead after the first round of the Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. Both golfers shot 2-under 70 on the Stadium Course and hold a one-shot advantage over Brad Dalke and Kristoffer Ventura.
Liu, Golfweek’s top-ranked junior, is a mainstay atop the leaderboard at premier tournaments. He won the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2010 and finished second there this year. He also has a T-3 at the Junior PGA last July, was T-5 at the Polo Golf Junior Classic last November and finished T-3 at last year’s Junior Players.
He was his normal self again Friday, notching birdies at Nos. 2 and 7 on the front nine and closing with an even-par 36 on the back, which included a bogey at No. 13 and a birdie at No. 16. He did get into some trouble, but was able to recover, chipping close to save par at No. 1 and chipping in for birdies at Nos. 2 and 7.
“I just got up-and-down from almost everywhere,” Liu said. “It will be hard to keep that up.”
Liu said the greens on the Pete Dye layout were difficult as usual, but that he was pleased with his short game, which has given him trouble recently.
“I’ve been practicing [my short game] the entire summer,” Liu said. “Hopefully this is just the start of improving that part of my game.”
Shelton had his big breakthrough earlier this month when he won the Junior PGA Championship. Before that, Shelton made match play at this year’s U.S. Junior and was T-20 in his last Junior Players appearance.
“I guess I’m on a hot streak right now or something,” said Shelton, who is competing in his third Junior Players. “That tournament [the Junior PGA] was just amazing. To win that was definitely the biggest win of my career. Coming here, coming off of a win, it’s good momentum.”
Shelton didn’t get off to the start he wanted. He bogeyed No. 5 and had trouble converting early birdie opportunities. But he closed his front nine with a birdie at No. 9 and notched a couple more on the back at Nos. 12 and 16 to finish his round at 2 under.
While the greens played tough during Friday’s first round at the Stadium Course, the narrow fairways seemed to be the main concern for players heading into Saturday’s second round on the Valley Course.
“They narrowed the fairways from last year, so you have to be able to hit it straight,” Liu said. “With it playing so soggy, if you don’t hit fairways, it will be really tough from the rough and it will play a lot longer.”
Said Shelton: “The course tomorrow will be a little harder I think because of the rough and it’s more narrow. But I just have to play my game.”
SHORT SHOTS: Defending champion Gavin Hall is T-51 after shooting 7-over 79. The UCLA commit made just one birdie on the round. . . . It was a rough day for 2012 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Andy Shim. Shim was hanging around even for much of the day until notching a nine at the par-4 14th. He would finish at 7 over. . . . Matt Gilchrest, who entered the Junior Players a winner of three straight AJGA events, is T-25 after carding a 3-over 75. . . . The easiest hole of the day was the par-5 second hole. It played to an average score of 4.97, and yielded 25 birdies and two eagles. The toughest was the par-4 18th. Just three birdies were made there during the first round as the hole played to an average score of 4.65. Eleven scores of double bogey or worse were recorded there.