__TOLEDO--__A little morning rain helped soften up the greens at Inverness Club, although the first wave of golfers posted just three sub-par scores in the opening round of the 112th NCAA Championship.
Northwestern's Jonathan Bowers had the low score from the first 78 golfers to complete their round, posting a two-under 69. The four-birdie, two-bogey round out of the junior from Columbus, Ohio, was highlighted by a near ace on the par-3 12th hole (7-iron to one foot) and a six-foot bogey-saving putt on the 16th that helped him keep his round in tact.
"I really played well today," Bowers (right) said. "I hit it straight, I hit greens and when I struggled, I got it up and down for par and even made a good bogey out there."
Cloudy skies were brightening by early afternoon, setting up perhaps for a few more red numbers from the second wave, which contained most of the top-ranked schools in the field.
Never more than a drizzle, the early moisture was a welcome sight to the players. "Some of the pins were more accessible because of the rain," Bowers said. "A lot of the shots that you would hit that would go through to the rough would stay in the fairway or stay near the pin. It didn't play quite as firm and fast as the practice round. I thought it was pretty manageable."
TCU's Tom Hoge looked like he was ready to produce the morning's low score, coming to the tee at the ninth hole (his 18th) at four under. The sophomore, however, proceeded to hit his approach shot into a bunker right of the green, just barely got out of the bunker into the greenside rough with his third, stubbed his fourth shot, finally got on the green in five and two-putted for a triple-bogey 7 to fall to one-under 70.
"It's a long golf tournament," Hoge said. "One hole isn't going to kill you. It's a little frustrating to leave some shots out there on the last hole, but I know we've got a lot of work to do."
San Diego's Alex Ching also shot a 70.
Chattanooga posted the low team score from the morning, shooting a eight-over 292 to finish one stroke ahead of San Diego and two up on Ohio State.
I saw Ohio State assistant coach Brad Sparling carrying around a driver during the morning round. I joked with him about how I've seen coaches carry putters while they're watching their players but not a driver. Sparling proceeded to explain to me that it was actually Buckeye junior Vaughn Taylor's. "He misses his first two fairways and proceeded to put the driver into a trash can," Sparling said. "I didn't want to leave it, but I didn't want to give it back to him either."
Taylor, meanwhile, shot a one-over 72.
Think there's not a premium for keeping the ball in the fairway off the tee at Inverness?
Jamie Lovemark might not be playing for USC this week, but he is in attendance at Inverness Club rooting on his fellow Trojans. Wearing shorts and listening to his iPod, the 2007 NCAA individual champion and college player of the year reiterated his decision to turn professional once his cracked rib has healed enough to let him back on the golf course.
"I just think it's the right time," Lovemark said. "It's something I've been pretty sure of since October."
Asked if the injury, which will have him sidelined a minimum of a month, might cause him to change his mind and stay in school for his senior year, Lovemark's answer was short and to the point.
With no therapy to help aid in the recovery process, Lovemark says he just has to wait for the injury to heal. "It's been almost three weeks now, although it doesn't feel much better," he said. "I'm just going to have to give it some time."