Record-Courier staff report
SUGAR GROVE, Ill. -- Senior Taylor Pendrith fired a 2-under-par 70 to help the Kent State men's golf team finish Thursday's first round of the NCAA Sugar Grove Regional at Rich Harvest Farms in a tie for third place.
With the top five teams advancing from the 14-team regional field following Saturday's third round, the Golden Flashes put themselves right in the thick of the chase for a fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships.
"We had a very good day," said KSU coach Herb Page. "We had three guys play exceptionally well and put together three great rounds. And the round Taylor Pendrith had today was especially impressive."
Seventh-seeded Kent State matched No. 6 Clemson with an 11-over-par 299 on day one, seven shots behind the pace set by No. 4 Alabama-Birmingham.
No. 2 Illinois was just one shot out of the lead.
While No. 3 USC and No. 12 Jacksonville State finished round one in that all-important fifth-place position, several of the nation's top teams are bunched in a group just below that eventual cut line. Top-seeded California and No. 5 UNLV will all be within six shots of fifth place when second-round action begins on the 7,151-yard, par-72 private course near Chicago this morning.
Pendrith's fast start put him in a tie for second place on the individual leaderboard with Jacksonville State's Pablo Torres, both just one shot behind leader Brian Campbell of Illinois. Pendrith opened with birdies at the 410-yard, par-4 first hole and the 552-yard, par-5 second. From there, he offset three bogeys with three more birdies.
"Taylor just overpowered the par-5s," said Page. "Even with the wind, he played the par-5s in 4-under. He birdied them all. He had two-putt birdies at 2 and 7, and then made a nice up-and-down on 12 and another on 17. But then, he was hitting 6-iron into 17 while other guys were laying up short of the water. He drove the ball really well all day and took advantage of it with his putting."
Josh Whalen finished round one in 11th place, carding an impressive 2-over-par 74 in his NCAA Regional debut. The freshman's round was highlighted by a bogey-free front nine that included a birdie at the 416-yard eighth hole. His back nine included an eagle at the par-5 17th.
"Josh has been getting better and better every week," said Page. "The finishing holes are very difficult at Rich Harvest Farms, and Whalen did some nice things at the end of the round. He made a great 10-footer for par at 16, then hit 3-wood into the teeth of the wind at 17. He knocked it on and made a 35-foot bender for eagle that was just fantastic."
Senior Corey Conners, who was medalist at Rich Harvest Farms in 2012 when Kent State won the Mid-American Conference Championship by 40 shots, shot a solid 75 on Thursday.
"Corey drove the ball so well all day long," said Page. "The only difference between his round and Taylor's was that Taylor made a few more putts. Corey only birdied one of the par-5s. But he was so close. He got up and down from 40 yards for his only birdie at 11, and he was in position on all of the others. He is hitting it very, very well."
Sophomore Kody Fry added an 80 for Kent State, which will be in the first groups off the tee at 8:20 a.m. central time this morning.