Four birdies on Three Pines' par-5s give the USC Upstate golfer the lead after first round

WOODRUFF — Performance on the four par-5s at Three Pines is what separated the only two golfers to open under 70 in Friday's first round of the Spartanburg County Men’s Amateur Championship.

Jordan Warnock is alone at the top after a bogey-free 4-under 68 with all four birdies coming on the par-5s. Kevin Roberts carded all pars on those holes, but still posted a 3-under 69, one stroke better than a trio of well-known players in a tie for third.

A pair of former Boiling Springs standouts and current SEC golfers shot 70 in Georgia’s Trevor Phillips and incoming USC freshman Harrison Corbin. They’re joined by 2004 county champion and perennial contender Brian Kennedy. Darrell Brown, Forrest Fowler and Jeremy Ryan each shot 1-under 71 while Charlie Bagwell, Spartanburg Christian Academy head coach Max Fain, and six-time men’s county champion Stan Sill are four shots back at even-par.

Warnock, who calls Three Pines his home club, is a former Dorman standout and current USC Upstate rising junior who finished 19th at the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament and was the first in program history named to the conference all-academic team. He emerged from one of the marquee foursomes with the day’s best round while playing with Phillips, roommate and USC Upstate teammate Matt Carter, and Byrnes alum and current College of Charleston player Reed Bentley.

Bentley is tied for 12th at 1 over and Carter is tied for 25th at 3 over.

“There’s always positive energy in a group like that and it’s easier to feed off people when you’re used to playing with them or they’re closer to your skill level,” Warnock said. “It’s always fun to play with guys you know because you always want to compete with them. But (Round 1) was just kind of getting started and getting into it. You can’t win it the first day, but can definitely lose it, so this was all about getting into position.

“We’ll get a little more competitive and then Sunday you dream of being in it coming down to the last nine. Right now I’m just happy with how I played. Early on it was putting, I’ve been working on that all summer and that’s really improved. When I wasn’t hitting it great yet, that kind of saved me.”

Warnock had an iron on his second shot into each of the par-5s for three routine birdies and one fantastic up-and-down for another from the tricky right side of the 13th green. He chipped within 20 feet and sank the putt.

“I’d practiced that shot a couple times this week for 30 minutes or so because a chip from the right side of the green is almost impossible and that’s exactly where I ended up,” Warnock said. “There wasn’t anything unbelievably great overall, but nothing was completely terrible, just pretty solid.”

Roberts, a two-time county champion (2013 and 2016), has been the event’s most consistent player for a decade with nine finishes of eighth or better over his last 10 starts, including seven top-5s. He missed the 2015 tournament due to injury and returned in 2016 to shoot an event record 17-under at Woodfin Ridge to beat Clemson signee Jacob Bridgeman by eight shots.

Roberts was 1 over through six holes before birdies at Nos. 7, 9, 10 and 12 got him to 3 under before parring out. He sank a 20-foot birdie at the seventh and after “snap-hooking” his drive into the trees at the ninth, landed a 6-iron to 20 feet and made that as well for “the ugliest birdie you’ve ever seen,” according to Roberts, who sounded surprised by his poor play on the par-5s.

He three-putted No. 3 for par, hit his second over the green on the 13th and couldn’t get up-and-down for birdie, and also parred the par-5 No. 18 despite just a 5-iron on his approach.

“I just played the par-5s awful and you’ve got to play them well to win,” Roberts said. “But I played the par-4s good. Coming in I probably had four or five putts inside 10 feet that didn’t go in. The greens were perfect, it was just my stroke. I’d been a little shaky with the driver coming in and usually have never fought with that, I usually drive it pretty straight. I think I figured it out on the back-nine and am all right now.”

Kennedy finished his day in style after reaching the 18th at even par, posting an eagle with a chip in from 15 yards to get into a tie for third.

“I drove the ball really well and just didn’t get in a whole lot of trouble,” Kennedy said. “It was a struggle, everybody in our group was kind of fighting through it, and I got a lot out of my round. I kept it in play and didn’t have any big numbers. I was just trying to keep it around par and to shoot 2 under, I was ecstatic.”