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WINDERMERE, Fla. – Isleworth Golf and Country Club proved challenging for the majority of the field Sunday.
One squad that made a late push made matters look simple, though.
Vanderbilt broke out of the pack on the back nine in the opening round of the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational, racing out to a 12-under 276 and an eight-shot lead at Isleworth over Auburn and defending champion Cal.
The biggest role in the late jump came from Will Gordon, who birdied five of his final seven holes to close out an 8-under 64 and take a two-shot lead in the individual race.
Gordon, a senior, already has a pair of top-15 finishes on his resume this fall, but his opening 64 was his lowest round of the season by three shots. For Gordon, the key was prep work on green reading paying off.
“I putted the ball really nicely today,” Gordon said. “I’ve just been trying to work on doing a better job of getting the ball a little higher with less pace and it really helped today.”
Gordon also noted that a key for this team is for the players to continue to challenge themselves mentally rather than settle. That mindset came in handy late Sunday, as Gordon left himself in a spot that potentially could’ve put a damper on a hot round.
Gordon, going for the par-5 17th in two, topped a 3-iron into a fairway bunker, leaving himself a difficult third shot from 164 yards to an intimidating perched green. On a reachable par 5, suddenly a bogey was in play.
But the senior dug down and lasered an 8-iron to 3 feet, leading to birdie. He then fired an approach 10 feet past the flag at the closing hole and drained the putt for a clutch birdie-birdie conclusion.
Vanderbilt, ranked 17th, has yet to win this fall but has steadily improved each tournament. An opening sixth was followed by a third and then a runner-up. With 36 holes to play in the fall finale, a push to first is certainly in play early.
If the Commodores can replicate more of the calm they provided Sunday, that may well be in the cards.