SIMPSONVILLE, Ky. — A five-hole flourish after a slow start propelled Josh Creel and Central Oklahoma into the early lead at the NCAA championship on Tuesday.
Creel had three birdies and an eagle during a five-hole stretch from the sixth through 10th holes to go from one-over to four-under en route to a dazzling seven-under 65 that has him atop the individual standings, while the Bronchos have the team lead at nine-under 279.
UCO has a six-shot lead ahead of North Carolina-Pembroke, followed by Western Washington (287), Cal State-Chico (289) and Georgia College (289). Creel is three shots clear of the second-place individual, Zach Kempa of Indiana (Pa.).
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The stroke play portion of the tournament continues Wednesday at The Cardinal Club and concludes Thursday, with the individual champion determined after 54 holes and the top eight teams then advancing to match play that will be contested Friday and Saturday.
UCO’s five players combined for 25 birdies and an eagle on the 7,036-yard, par-72 layout, with the Bronchos also getting a two-under 70 from Baer Aneshansley that has him tied for sixth in the medalist race. Andrew Green and Dillon Rust both shot even-par 72 and Derek Franco had a 75.
Creel started his day with four consecutive pars before bogeying No. 14, his fifth hole of the day. The Cheyenne, Wyo. junior got back to even with an eight-foot birdie putt on the next hole, then followed a two-putt par with an eagle on the par-5 17th hole after hitting his second shot two feet from the hole.
Creel finished off a three-under front nine with another short birdie putt on No. 18 before starting his back nine with a 15-footer. He gave a shot back on the par-3 third hole – his 12th – but birdied the next three holes, capping that surge by driving the 316-yard par-4 sixth hole and two putting.
Two pars and a chip to two feet for a tap-in birdie on the par-5 finishing hole finished off the splendid round.
“I put the ball in the fairway all day long and only missed two greens,” Creel said. “I know I haven’t got off to the best first rounds this year, but it was a good day and I’m excited about the next couple of rounds.”
Aneshansley had six birdies in his two-under round, including a string of three consecuitve on the front nine to make up for three bogeys as he made the turn at one-under. The Clinton senior bogeyed his 11th hole to drop back to even, but birdied two of his last five holes and had a stellar up-and-down par save on the par-4 16th to come in with a second consecutive 35.
Rust was three over through five holes before rallying to make the turn at one-over 37 and he sandwiched a pair of eight-foot birdie putts around a lone bogey on the nine to come in a 35 for his even-par round.
Green started hot with birdies on two of his first six holes, but he gave three shots back on the next two holes to turn at one-over. The Edmond senior reeled off three consecutive birdies on the back nine to make up for a couple of bogeys for a back-nine 35.