Paolucci, Kang start strong at FootJoy

Anthony Paolucci at the 2009 Junior Players.

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With his maiden AJGA victory out of the way, Anthony Paolucci can turn his attention to bigger, more important matters.

Such as winning more tournaments.

Two weeks after capturing the Thunderbird, Paolucci put himself in good position to claim back-to-back invitational titles, shooting a bogey-free 5-under 65 Tuesday to grab a share of the first-round lead at the FootJoy Invitational. Jeffrey Kang, playing his final AJGA event, also shot 65 at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C.

“After that win, you can’t look back at the end of the summer and say you had a bad summer because you won the Thunderbird,” Paolucci said. “But at the same time, you want to win more tournaments.”

Paolucci and Kang are one shot clear of a large group at 4 under, which includes Denny McCarthy, the runner-up at the Thunderbird and Golfweek’s No. 7-ranked player. Defending champion Justin Thomas and Grayson Murray, who made the cut last month on the Nationwide Tour, are another stroke back after 67s.

Only three players in Golfweek’s top 10 – Emiliano Grillo (No. 5), McCarthy (7) and Kang (10) – are competing this week, after top-ranked Jordan Spieth withdrew over the weekend because of a mild back strain.

That provides a golden opportunity for a player such as Thomas, who used last year’s FootJoy victory to become the third-youngest player to make the cut on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham Championship.

“I was telling everyone here that this is almost like a home course for me now,” Thomas said. “I’ve played it a lot of times, so it definitely doesn’t hurt my chances.”

Paolucci co-led after the first round of last week’s Sunnehanna Amateur in Pennsylvania, but shot rounds of 73-73-77 to drop into a tie for 42nd. Kang, meanwhile, has yet to win an invitational, a drought he’d like to end in his final junior tournament. Kang will attend Southern Cal in the fall.

“It’s kind of like a college field you’ll see in a couple years,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s just sad that it’s going to be my last AJGA tournament. I really want to win; that’d be a great way to end my junior career.”

Information from the AJGA was used in this report.

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