Derek Chang, Robin Petersson and their Augusta State teammates made a successful return home Saturday.
On the strength of the play of Chang and Petersson, the Jaguars opened with rounds of 283-293 and lead the Insperity Augusta State Invitational after 36 holes at Forest Hills. At even-par, the Jaguars take a two-shot lead over defending champ Texas into today’s final round.
“We just played solid,” Augusta State golf coach Kevin McPherson said. “I feel pretty good with where we’re at. Being on our home course, I feel we have a pretty good advantage.”
Augusta State, likely needing a win or runner-up finish to keep alive its paper-thin chances of making the NCAA regionals, is just ahead of the Longhorns, who posted the low second round with 6-under-par 282. Georgia is four shots back at 4-over, with Clemson and South Carolina each just behind at 7-over.
The Jaguars opened strong thanks to matching 68s by Chang and Petersson in the first round. Augusta State entered the event 15 wins below .500 and can collect just 13 wins with a victory. But the Jaguars can add one final day of competition to try to get above .500 to qualify for postseason play.
“It puts a little pressure on us,” Petersson said. “We try not to think about it.
“Having home-course advantage and playing in front of our fans helps us.”
Chang and Petersson are tied at 4-under-par 140 with Central Florida’s Greg Eason and South Carolina’s Matt NeSmith, the North Augusta native who grew up playing “hundreds of rounds” at Forest Hills. The Gamecock freshman, who tied Petersson with 10 birdies, opened with 67. After getting off to a 1-over start through the first five holes of the second round – he started at No. 11 – NeSmith reeled off birdies at Nos. 16 (chip-in from 10 yards out), 17 (12-foot birdie putt) and 18 (chip shot to tap-in range for birdie) to grab a three-shot lead. On fumes, NeSmith bogeyed three holes on the front nine to finish with 73.
“I knew if I could get some momentum going I could play really well,” he said. “The last 18 I just got tired.”
NeSmith is seeking his first collegiate win.
He entered the tournament with five top-10 finishes in eight events, his best showing a tie for third place last month at the Palmetto Intercollegiate.
Petersson, also seeking his first collegiate win along with Chang, birdied his third hole of the day, the par-3 13th hole, rolling in a 30-foot birdie attempt over a mound.
“After that I played really well,” he said. “That gave me confidence.”