Whitsett, Caron hold 2-shot lead at Jones Cup

Alabama's Cory Whitsett at the 2013 Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest.

SEA ISLAND, Ga. – Ocean Forest is about as tough as they come. No player has shot under par for 54 holes in the past four Jones Cups. That may explain why the first-round co-leaders used a rare feat en route to 68s.

Alabama’s Cory Whitsett and Florida State’s Rowin Caron, the Netherlands’ top-ranked amateur, each made eagle Friday by holing out from more than 100 yards. They’re two shots ahead of the field. Georgia’s T.J. Mitchell shot 70, while North Florida’s Sean Dale and Pacific’s Alex Edfort are another shot back. The field averaged 76.5 strokes per round Friday. Defending champion Justin Thomas shot 78.

Caron’s eagle came at the par-5 sixth. He had 162 yards remaining for his third shot after a conservative lay-up from the rough. “I just hit a little knock-down 7-iron. It landed about 8 feet short of the hole and rolled in,” he said. Caron made the turn in 5-under 31 and reached 6 under with birdie at the 13th, but bogeyed two of the final three holes. Whitsett holed out from 105 yards on the par-4 13th to reach 4 under par. He bogeyed the par-3 17th, but rebounded with birdie on the final hole.

“I just hit it really well,” Whitsett said. “I was in the fairway a lot. I hit every fairway on the back nine. That’s the key out here. It’s a pretty manageable golf course if you’re in the right spots. If you get out of play, that’s where people get into trouble.”

Whitsett, an Alabama junior, has had plenty of success in the time between college golf’s fall and spring seasons. He won the Western Refining College Golf All-America Classic and the Patriot All-America in 2011, and was third at the Western Refining in November.

“I’m refreshed. I’m excited about playing golf,” Whitsett said about his midseason success. “I just go out and play.”

Whitsett has been working with Sea Island-based instructor Todd Anderson for about a year. They’ve developed a three-quarter shot that Whitsett hit “maybe every iron shot” in Friday’s wind. “That’s the key to just controlling my ball better,” Whitsett said. He also played Ocean Forest in December with PGA Tour players Zach Johnson and Chris Kirk. “This course isn’t that easy for those guys either,” Whitsett said. “It showed me a lot.”

Caron is a Florida State freshman by way of the Netherlands. He played in just two events this fall because of starts at the World Amateur Team Championship and the European Tour’s KLM Open. He didn’t think he was going to attend college but changed his mind after visiting Tallahassee. He’s making his Jones Cup debut.

“It’s a tough course. You have to place the ball really well,” Caron said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I just wanted to enjoy myself.”

Holing an iron shot for eagle always helps that cause. His co-leader, Whitsett, can relate.

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