ALPHARETTA, GA -- Junior Julian Suri fired a five-under 67 on Sunday to lead Duke into third place at the United States Collegiate Championship at the Golf Club of Georgia. The Blue Devils closed the opening round with a five-under 283 as Spencer Anderson and Brinson Paolini also posted under-par rounds.
"Our players had good game plans and executed really well out there today," said head coach Jamie Green. "Julian [Suri] really got some things going in his round and was feeling very comfortable out there. He made some really nice putts on the back nine coming in. The guys played smart on a course where certain hole locations can tempt you and if you are not really precise you can struggle scoring. They made really smart decisions and they were bold in their play."
The Blue Devils used a back nine surge to charge up the leaderboard. All five members of the Duke lineup played holes No. 10-18 at even-par or better with the group combining to shoot seven-under on the back nine. Duke made the turn near the middle of the pack before mounting its charge.
"As a group we played the back nine really strong," said Green. "We hit a couple of bumps on the front side but I was really proud of the way they stayed focused and calm and just kept giving themselves every opportunity. I told every player to just keep knocking on the door and give yourself a putt at it. We wanted to make this tournament a putting contest so that means you have to put in in play off the tee, put it on the green somewhere that you can putt from and make your putts to win the championship."
"That is a testament to our patience," said Suri of the back nine charge. "When things weren't going as well as we would have liked on the front nine we kept plugging away and giving ourselves chances for birdies. That was a really good comeback and should give us a lot of momentum for tomorrow."
Southern Cal got off to a fast start and held the lead throughout the opening round before Auburn matched them late in the day. The Trojans and Tigers are tied for first, one shot ahead of Duke, after shooting six-under 282s. Host Georgia Tech is fourth at four-under with Florida State rounding out the top 5 with a two-under 286.
UCLA and Washington are tied for sixth at even-par and followed by Iowa (+5, 293), Clemson (+6, 294), Wake Forest (+7, 295), Kent State (+7, 295), Virginia (+9, 297), Texas A&M (+12, 300) and East Tennessee State (+16, 304).
Steve Lim (USC) birdied four of his first five holes and finished with a six-under 66 to grab the individual lead. Suri and Dominic Bozzelli (Auburn) are tied for second and one shot back. Iowa's Steven Ihm is third after shooting a four-under 68, while Patrick Cantlay (UCLA), Michael Johnson (Auburn), Kevin Miller (Kent State) and James White (Georgia Tech) are tied for fifth at three-under. Anderson is among four players tied for ninth at two-under.
Suri began the day with a birdie on the par 5 first hole before running into trouble with bogeys on No. 2 and No. 3. He settled in with a birdie on No. 4 (par 4) and closed the front nine strong with birdies on No. 8 (par 4) and No. 9 (par 5). Following three pars to open the back nine, Suri birdied the par 3 13th and 17th holes and added a birdie on the par 4 15 hole for a season-best round of 67.
"I got off to a little bit of a rocky start, but I told myself to relax and just keep plugging away," said Suri. "I missed a couple of putts coming in on the back side but overall I gave myself a lot of chances and played pretty well. I kept a good rhythm off the tee and got the ball in play. Once you do that out here it is pretty straight forward. It is not that long of a layout so if you can put it in play you can give yourself a lot of good looks at birdie."
Anderson posted a two-under 70 in the opening round and is tied for ninth through 18 holes of play. The senior from Pacific Palisades, Calif., birdied the par 3 third hole before carding his only bogey of the day on the par 3 sixth hole. After making the turn at even-par, Anderson tacked on birdies on No. 12 (par 4) and No. 16 (par 4) for his sixth even-par or better round of the fall season.
Paolini recorded the 24th under-par round of his career with a one-under 71 on Sunday. The Virginia Beach, Va., native played the front nine at even-par with one birdie (No. 5), seven pars and a bogey (No. 8). He got back into red figures with a birdie on the par 5 11th hole but quickly dropped a stroke with a bogey on No. 12. The Duke junior added a birdie on the par 4 14th hole and closed out with four straight pars. He enters Monday's second round tied for 13th overall.
Yaroslav Merkulov, a sophomore from Penfield, N.Y., began the opening round of the United State Collegiate Championship with five straight pars before a bogey-bogey-bogey stretch dropped him to three-over. After dropping a stroke on No. 12, Merkulov carded his first birdie of the day on the par 3 13th hole. He followed another bogey on No. 17 with a birdie on the par 5 closing hole to wrap up the round tied for 43rd with a three-over 75.
Junior Tim Gornik opened the day with a birdie on the par 5 first hole but little went right over the next 11 holes as he suffered six bogeys during the stretch to slip to five-over in the round. The native of Slovenia settled in over the final six holes with five pars and a birdie on the par 4 16th hole to finish with a four-over 76. He enters tomorrow's second round tied for 51st.
Duke opens second round play on Monday at 9 am on the front side of the Lakeside Course at the Golf Club of Georgia. The Blue Devils will be paired with Iowa and Kent State for the second straight day. Live scoring for the USCC is available at www.golfstat.com with complete coverage of the tournament at www.theuscc.org.
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