TEMPE, AZ - Freshman Stephen Behr and sophomore Billy Kennerly both had rounds of two-under-par 68 to lead Clemson to an even par team score (280) and a tie for fourth place after the first round of the Tempe Regional at the Karsten Golf Course in Tempe, AZ on Thursday. The Tigers are tied for fourth in the 14-team field and must finish in the top five to advance to the NCAA Championship Tournament in Alpharetta, GA on two weeks.
UCLA has a commanding leader after the first day with a12-under par score of 268. But the next seven teams are separated by just two total shots. Duke stands in second place at two under par 278, while Austin Peay State, not ranked in the top 50 of any poll entering the tournament, is third at 279. The Tigers are tied with Georgia, Texas A&M, North Carolina, and Central Florida.
Larry Penley's team made a strong comeback on Thursday. His players were a combined seven-over-par on the par three 215-yard 16th hole (seventh hole of the day), leading to a seven-over-par team score after nine holes. Clemson played the back nine first. The Tigers were in last place by three shots after their first nine.
"It was a rollercoaster day," said Penley, who has taken Clemson to the NCAA Tournament 30 consecutive years, the longest streak of any active coach in Division I. "We really struggled on the 16th hole. We counted three doubles and played it seven over par for our counters. But, we got some momentum on the second nine. Crawford Reeves birdied the first hole and then Billy Kennerly and Cody Proveaux made some birdies.
"It was fun to watch us move up the leader board. I thought we had a chance to do that because the back side was playing much harder than the front."
Ten of the 14 teams had lower team scores on the front nine compared to the back nine. But, Clemson had the greatest differential at 14 shots, seven under on the front vs. seven over on the back. Clemson improved from 14th place after the back nine to a tie for fourth at the end of the day.
Behr and Kennerly are tied for sixth place in the 75-player field after the first day. Behr had six birdies and three bogeys on the day. He had birdies on the second, fourth and sixth holes on the front nine before finishing with a bogey on the ninth hole.
Kennerly, who was Clemson's best golfer at the ACC Tournament last month, played the last 11 holes at four under par. He was he only Clemson golfer to make a par on the difficult ninth hole. His only bad hole of the day was the 16th when he three-putted from eight feet for double bogey.
Cody Proveaux shot a one over par 71 and had three birdies. Like the others, the 16th hole was his most difficult as he hit his tee shot in the water and made a double bogey.
Senior Crawford Reeves finished with a three-over-par 73, but he did have the day's only eagle, a three on the par five 14th hole. Reeves reached the green in two, then made a 15-footer for his three. It was the 15th eagle of his Clemson career and moved him past fellow Greenville, SC native Lucas Glover into second place on the all-time Clemson list. D.J. Trahan has the overall record with 27.
Freshman Miller Capps, who is playing the number-one position this weekend, shot a 76 after playing the last six holes at four over par. His score did not count towards Clemson's team score.
Clemson will play with Central Florida and Vanderbilt on Friday. The Tigers start at 7 AM off the 10th tee on the par 70 course that is 7036 yards in length.
"I like our tee time on Friday," said Penley. "I think the earlier the better because the winds can kick up later in the day, so the earlier we finish the better."