Defending junior amateur tournament champion Dru Love settles for 77 in first round at Jones Creek

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Dru Love will have plenty of work to do to successfully defend his American Junior Golf Association title.

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Dru Love reacts after seeing his lie on No. 13 during the first round of the AJGA Vaughn Taylor Championship at Jones Creek, Tuesday, July 26, 2011, in Evans, Ga.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Dru Love reacts after seeing his lie on No. 13 during the first round of the AJGA Vaughn Taylor Championship at Jones Creek, Tuesday, July 26, 2011, in Evans, Ga.

Love sprayed his driver at times Tuesday en route to 5-over-par 77 in the E-Z-GO Vaughn Taylor Championship at Jones Creek Golf Club. He stands eight shots off the pace and will likely need to post a round in the 60s today if he's going to get back in the mix.

Last year, Love carded 5-under 211 total to outlast Cody Shafer, of Evans, by three shots at West Lake Country Club. But since 2010, the tournament has changed its name -- last year, the event was the Charles Howell III Junior Championship -- as well as the venue.

"You come back knowing you're the defending champ, but then you get here and it's different," Love said. "It's obviously a different place, but you're still the defending champ. People expect you to play well."

Love is chasing Austin Padova, of Hudson, Fla., who leads the boys division after posting 69. Richard Hubbard, of Mount Pleasant, S.C., is alone in second, two shots back. Meechai Padungsiriseth, of Bradenton, Fla.; Daniel Cavanaugh, of Perham, Minn.; and Matthew Rushton, of Hilton Head Island, S.C., are tied for third at 73.

In the girls division, Abby Newton, of Katy, Texas, opened with 72 to lead by one shot over Jessica Hoang, of North Augusta, and Rachel Dai, of Suwanee, Ga.

Eunice Yi, of Evans, carded 76, while Elizabeth Kim, of Martinez, posted 81. Defending champion and former Martinez resident Taylor Ramsey, who now lives in Milledgeville, Ga., opened with 84.

On the boys side, Love had issues with his driver and lost two balls, including one on the final hole for a double bogey. At last year's event, he lost one ball.

"I've just got to get it in the fairway," he said. "I'm hitting it well enough. I'm putting it well enough. If I get it in the fairway, I can shoot a low score. If I get it in the fairway, I'm going to make some birdies."

The 17-year-old Love will be a senior this fall at Frederica Academy on St. Simons Island, Ga. He's leaning toward taking his game to the University of North Carolina, where his father, PGA Tour veteran Davis Love III, was a standout golfer. Clemson, Alabama and Southern Methodist also are being considered. Love said he has a few things to work on before attending college.

"I think I need to get in a little better shape, get a little stronger," Love said. "And I need improve my driving. I'm putting great. I don't think I could've putted any better today. And my short game's pretty good. I've just got to get that driver going straight."

Emmanuel Kountakis, of Augusta, leads the local contingent after opening with 76 to place him in a tie for 22nd place. He held steady despite three-putting for double bogey and following with a triple bogey. Kountakis closed with a winding 25-foot birdie putt at the last to finish with a bit of momentum.

"I always feel like I can go low," he said. "I'm going to try to do that."

RAINIER EHRHARDT/STAFF

Dru Love opened with 77 in the E-Z-GO Vaughn Taylor Championship at Jones Creek. Love, who won this American Junior Golf Association tournament last year when it was at West Lake Country Club, trails Austin Padova, of Hudson, Fla., by eight shots. \nClemson assistant golf coach Jordan Byrd follows Love's group in the first round. Love is a senior in high school. \nRAINIER EHRHARDT/STAFF

Dru Love tees off on No. 13. The Georgia native said he needs to improve his driving to get back in the event at Jones Creek.


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