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Irish in third place after 1st round

Joe Meixell | Monday, October 1, 2007

Notre Dame got off to a strong start in the Fighting Irish Gridiron Classic Sunday, shooting a first-round 289 (plus 9) to end the day in third.

Playing at home on the Warren Golf Course, the Irish trail firstplace Michigan State by four shots and Baylor by a single stroke. Notre Dame finds itself near the top of the leaderboard of the 12-team field despite tough conditions and some costly mistakes on the last few holes.

“The golf course setup was very difficult as far as the hole locations, and the wind was up to 20 miles per hour,” Irish coach Jim Kubinski said. “We didn’t play our best golf, but being at home definitely helped, and we’ll play a little better tomorrow.”

Sophomore Doug Fortner led the Irish with a 68, which tied him for best in the field with Spartan Graham Baillargeon. Fortner began his day with two birdies in the first three holes and rode that momentum to the best round of his collegiate career.

“Doug has all the tools and a great deal of talent,” Kubinski said. “His start this year is a sign of things to come, he’s going to be a special player.”

Junior Josh Sandman and sophomore Kyle Willis were close behind both shooting one-over 71s to tie for fifth place. Willis set a personal best with the roundbut is competing as an individual in the tournament and will not contribute to the team score.

Senior Greg Rodgers played consistently after a tough start to turn in a 74, and senior Eddie Peckels shot a six-over 76. Carlos Santos-Ocampo rounded out the Notre Dame team golfers with an 81.

Kubinski said the Irish are building on the extra motivation playing at their home course this week.

“You have pride defending your home, and the guys showed it with a good start today.” he said.

In addition to Willis, several other Irish underclassmen competing individually had strong scores. Freshmen Tyler Hock and Jeff Chen each shot a 74, and sophomore Olavo Batista carded a 76.

“We’re a very young team, but we have so many players who are able to travel and compete in the top five [starting spots] this year,” Kubinski said. “We have a lot of talented players that can contribute.”

Notre Dame leads fourth-place Virginia by four strokes and North Florida by five.

The Irish will tee off the second round today with tee times beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Warren Golf Course.