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Men’s Golf: Irish in middle of pack after first day

Michael Blasco | Monday, April 20, 2009

The Irish put together a solid first round at the Big East championships at the Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club in Dade City, Fla., finishing the first day of competition in fifth place with a seven-over par 295. No. 44 Louisville leads the field of 12 with a six-under 282.

Notre Dame freshman Max Scodro, in his fifth collegiate tournament of his career, vaulted himself to fifth overall on the back of eagles on the second and 11th holes. He stands at one-under par after a torrid 33 on the back nine.

“Max is strong through the bag, stays loose out there and just enjoys playing,” Irish coach Jim Kubinski said.

Junior Doug Fortner, the only upperclassman to make an appearance at the tournament for Notre Dame, heads into Monday’s play in 14th place. After sitting at three-under par through 11, Fortner fired two bogeys and a double bogey over four holes on the back nine to slide to one-over par for the day. Fortner’s strong play leaves open the possibility for back-to-back All-Big East honors for the junior.

Trailing his veteran teammate by only one stroke, sophomore Jeff Chen carded a two-over 74 to end up in 23rd for the day. Chen quickly settled down after opening his round with four straight bogeys. Kubinski has lauded Chen for his veteran attitude and icy nerves throughout the season.

“Even when he doesn’t have his golf swing where he’d like it, he doesn’t panic,” Kubinski said. “He just goes out with what he has and competes. He now knows he can compete at this level.”

Fellow sophomore Dustin Zhang shot a five-over 77. Coming out of the turn with a one-over 37, Zhang struggled down the stretch to fire four bogeys on the back nine. Sophomore Connor Alan-Lee rounded out the Irish lineup with an 11-over 83. Alan-Lee never quite seemed to find his stroke, scattering eight bogeys and two double bogeys in addition to his birdie on the 17th.

Despite finding themselves squarely in the thick of a tight field – only 12 strokes separate the third- and 10th-place teams – Notre Dame has history on their side. In perhaps the finest performance in their long history, the Irish shot an incredible 16-under par on the final day of the 2006 Big East championship at Jovita to come back from 12 strokes down and clinch the title.

“We know we can do something – win – we’ve felt capable of all year,” Kubinski said. “We’ll have positive vibes. Lake Jovita was ‘our place’ the last time we competed there.”

Competition continues today with an 8:50 a.m. tee-off and will conclude tomorrow afternoon.