Moorhead, Park take early GW Jr. Invite lead
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Red numbers were rare in the opening round of the Golfweek West Coast Junior Invitational. Only two players finished the opening round under-par. Michael Moorhead leads the boys division after a 1-under 71 and Ri Hyang Park leads the girls, also recording a 1-under 71.
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The Monument Course at Troon North proved to be a very difficult task for the 71-player boys and girls’ field. It was the first time a Golfweek Junior Invite was played in the western part of the United States.
The boy’s division features 10 players ranked inside the top 100 of the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings and it was Moorhead, ranked No. 71, who grabbed a 2-shot lead.
Moorhead got off to a quick start with a 3-under 33 on the front nine and then reached 4-under after 11 holes. However, back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 12 and 13 and a double bogey on No. 14 left Moorhead at even-par.
He was able to get one back coming in with a birdie on the par-3, 222-yard 16th hole before making par on the final two holes.
Moorhead, who needed 28 putts, said he was surprised to be in the lead.
“I am surprised the scores weren’t lower,” he said after his round. “It’s a desert-style course, pretty open. As long as you keep the ball in play and roll the rock pretty well you are going to make a lot of birdies.”
The junior at Corona Del Mar High School in Newport Beach, Calif., did acknowledge that the hole locations were difficult, which may have been a key factor in why the scoring was high.
“The pins were pretty nasty today,” Moorhead said.” You had a lot of breaking putts so if you didn’t have your speed right you were not going to make many.”
Ranked No. 30, A.J. McInerney is the top player in the field. McInerney, who resides in Henderson, Nev., is a 2012 graduate and has committed to play college golf at UNLV.
McInerney’s expectations were not high coming into the event, largely due to the fact that he had not play in a tournament in over three months. McInerney, who tied for 33rd in his last tournament start – the AJGA Junior Players Championship – opened with a 3-over 75 and is tied for ninth place.
“I hit 16 greens and didn’t really putt very well,” said McInerney. “I had a lot of birdie putts, but never converted.”
Zachary Wright of Phoenix, Michael Werenski of South Hadley, Mass., and Sebastian Crampton of Pacific Grove, Calif., are all tied for second after shooting 73.
Ri Hyang Park fired the only under-par round of the day in taking the first-round lead in the girls’ division.
Park, a Japanese native residing in Hilton Head Island, S.C., carded two two-putt birdies in her round of 71, building a two-shot lead over Briana Mao and Paige Lee. Park’s only mistake came at the par-5 14th where she hit her tee shot into the desert and couldn’t recover, making bogey.
Park started on the back nine and turned to the front in 1-over-par. At the short par-5 fourth she blasted a 7-wood from 200 yards to the back of the green and two-putted from about 80 feet for the birdie.
At the ninth, her final hole of the day, Park again 2-putted for birdie.
“That was the longest putt I made all day,” Park said of the 15-footer to take her into red numbers. “I could have shot lower than 71, but on the front nine I was struggling with the speed of the greens. I had to make a lot of 6-footers for par.”
Park showed a lot of respect to the Troon greens, which were in near-perfect condition. Her lag putts continually came up short but she managed to recover for par nearly every step of the way.
Park could use a victory Sunday to re-affirm her own notion that her game and state of mind is ready to compete at the highest level of junior golf.
“This is the first tournament of the year and I’m trying to see how my golf game is,” Park said. “I started playing bigger tournaments last year but was thinking I was not good enough to play those tournaments – my scores were in the high 70s and 80s. But now I have more confidence playing in those tournaments.”
Park entered the event ranked No. 43 in the Golfweek Junior Rankings and leads a field which includes four of the top-100.
Mao (ranked No. 81) and Lee (No. 86) will battle with Park in Sunday’s final group. Mao carded 15 pars in a steady round of 73. Her only birdie came at the par-5 11th where she hit a sand wedge from 70 yards to two feet.
Lee turned to her final nine holes in 2-over-par, but carded three birdies on the home nine.
The final group will tee off at 8:12 a.m. Sunday on the Monument course at Troon North.
Right on their heels is a threesome of players who each shot 74 on Saturday: Lauren Salazar, Kimmy Hill and Paige Sprinac.
In November Sam Chun and Doris Chen won Golfweek Junior Invitational titles at Reunion Resort in Orlando.
– Carlton Reese contributed