Southeast: Alabama leads by two strokes
Top team: Alabama, 15-under 269
Top individual: Kevin Aylwin (North Florida), 6-under 65
In position (the next four): 2. North Florida (271), 3. East Carolina (276), 4. Georgia (280), T5. Houston and North Carolina-Wilmington (282)
Chasing (still work to do): 7. Augusta (283), 8. Wake Forest (284), T9. New Mexico and Texas-Arlington (285)
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BATTERED AND BRUISED: Kevin Aylwin doesn’t really practice anymore. He probably needs an MRI exam. When his teammates beat balls on the range, the North Florida senior can be seen putting, chipping or pitching -- nothing strenuous -- so as not to further aggravate his injured left wrist.
But, as teammate Sean Dale said Thursday, “obviously his wrist isn’t bothering him that much.”
Aylwin got hot on the back nine to post a 6-under 65 at the University of Georgia Golf Course and take a one-shot lead in the individual race. He turned in 1 under but holed out for eagle on the par-4 11th, dunking a lob-wedge shot from 87 yards, and then ran off three consecutive birdies.
“A lot happened there in a short period of time,” Aylwin said, smiling.
Aylwin, who has seven top 10s in 11 starts this season for the Ospreys, doesn’t know how he injured his wrist, but it’s been bothering him for about two months. It may be tendinitis. It might be something far more serious. But before every round, he skips the practice tee and pops two Aleve . . . and then seems to play well.
Unfortunately, he’s not the only North Florida player dealing with injuries, either. Dale, the team’s best player, was bothered by a lingering knee injury in the fall, and Kevin Phelan is using a pull cart this week to alleviate pressure on his right foot.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the top of the lineup, imagine coach Scott Schroeder’s delight when his fifth man, freshman M.J. Maguire, made seven birdies Thursday en route to a season-best 66.
“M.J. is a talented kid, maybe a little underachieving,” said UNF coach Scott Schroeder, whose team is ranked No. 12 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “Having him play well is huge. It means everyone else doesn’t have to play great every day for us to perform well.”
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ROLL TIDE: Alabama coach Jay Seawell believed even par would be a good score during the opening round of the Athens regional. The course was playing long (7,253 yards). It is penal on the greens, with severe undulations and run-offs. And, of course, there are plenty of nerves in postseason play. “The faster the start you have,” Seawell said, “the more relaxed you become.”
But just because the Crimson Tide got off to a torrid start Thursday, shooting a 15-under 269 to lead the team race by two shots, doesn’t mean they’ll go on cruise control, either. There are few comfortable moments in qualifying tournaments, especially for the presumptive favorite.
That said, No. 2-ranked Alabama, which has won four events this season, including the SEC Championship, couldn’t have asked for a better start: Bobby Wyatt birdied four of his last six holes to shoot 66. Player-of-the-year candidate Justin Thomas shot 67. Cory Whitsett and Hunter Hamrick each had 68.
Said Seawell, “A good start kept us in the golf frame of mind instead of the qualifying frame of mind. All five guys got off to a good start, and I’m really proud of them.”
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SHORT SHOTS: Playing on its home course, Georgia shot a 4-under 280 Thursday and sits in fourth place. The Bulldogs, ranked No. 25 in the country, return with only one starter, T.J. Mitchell, from last year’s team that reached the NCAA finals. ... Harold Varner and Ryan Eibner each shot 67 to pace East Carolina, which enters Friday’s second round in third place. The Pirates are 38th in the country. ... New Mexico, the Athens regional’s third seed, shot 1-over 285 in the opening round and sit three shots out of the all-important fifth place. ... Iowa and Long Beach State, ranked 26th and 40th, respectively, both have work to do to advance. The Hawkeyes shot 288 Thursday, while the 49ers, making their first NCAA appearance since 2004, are in 12th place after a 297.