May 27, 2009

Courtesy of Georgia Athletics

TOLEDO, Ohio --- "Survival."

That was the word Georgia men's golf coach Chris Haack used to describe his team's opening round Thursday at the NCAA Championship - a round in which the Bulldogs grabbed the first-day lead.

Top-ranked Georgia shot a 4-over-par 288 on the Inverness Club's challenging par-71, 7,155-yard layout. The Bulldogs were matched by Oklahoma State, and they share a four-shot advantage over Chattanooga.

Inverness has played host to four U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships, a U.S. Amateur and a U.S. Senior Open. Weather also was a factor as the Toledo area was hit by early morning rain and windy conditions throughout the day.

"This is a golf course that tests all aspects of your game," Haack said. "We are fortunate that we have five guys with experience, and that experience paid off today. It was tough out there. Judging by the scores for some very good teams, it's obvious this course can jump up and bite you. Fortunately, we had our guys play some good, solid golf - and that's what you've got to have here."

The NCAAs has a different format this season in that all 30 teams will play 54 holes Tuesday through Thursday, with the low eight teams then advancing to match play on Friday. According to Georgia's players, having a strong opening round should pay dividends if the Bulldogs are one of those eight teams.

"I'm happy that we got our confidence up on the first day," said sophomore Russell Henley, who posted an even-par 71. "It's a tough golf course, but we know now that we can make it through successfully. We just need to keep it going."

"We knew the better we did today, the higher our confidence would be," said junior Hudson Swafford, who signed for a 2-over 73. "This is like qualifying to get to match play, but we still hoped to make a statement by playing well. We want to be No. 1 for the match play tournament."

Henley and senior Brian Harman led the Bulldogs with even-par 71s, two shots behind Jonathan Bowers of Northwestern, Scott Langley of Illinois and Matt Hill of North Carolina State. Swafford and sophomore Harris English each had 2-over 73s, while senior Adam Mitchell had the Bulldogs' non-counting score of 8-over 79.

"Our guys didn't overthink this golf course today," Haack said. "We talked about it coming in. We said, 'It's just golf and we just need to hit our shots.' Simple as that."

The Bulldogs will tee off at 7 a.m. on Wednesday with their counterparts from Arizona State and UCLA, which opened at 10-over and 22-over, respectively. Live scoring, tee times and pairings can be found at golfstat.com.