Originally created 04/22/01

Varn's among group chasing Blackburn



McCORMICK, S.C. - The usual cast of characters showed up for the season-opening Regions Cup golf tournament Saturday, along with a newcomer who had the locals buzzing.

Augusta's Jay Blackburn, a two-time winner on this amateur series in 2000, took the first-round lead in the Savannah Lakes Village Classic with a 3-under-par 69 at the Monticello Golf Club.

Bob Varn of Orangeburg, S.C., the mystery man in question, is one shot back.

Neel Boggs of Augusta is two back and North Augusta's Lad Wright and Augusta's Richard Maddox trail by three.

After Varn posted his 70, golfers who were gathered around the scoreboard wanted to know who he was. They were informed by veterans that Varn won the 1985 South Carolina Match Play Championship and the 1986 Carolinas Mid-Amateur.

It's been 13 years since Varn played in his one and only Regions Cup event, the 1988 Aiken Golf Classic, where he finished second.

The reason he's entered this week is to get in some competitive rounds before defending his title in next week's Rose Festival tournament in Orangeburg.

"I haven't been playing very well," Varn said. "I figured I'd come in here and get tuned up. Tournaments usually get me in form. They make me think and work a little harder. I had a pretty good day."

Varn's round featured two long birdie putts among his four birdies. He rolled in a 35-footer on No. 10 and a 30-footer on No. 11.

"I'm pleased because I'd been putting poorly," Varn said. "I worked on it Friday in the practice round here."

Varn heard about the Savannah Lakes tournament from his friend Bobby Gause of Columbia. Gause, the winner of the Midland Valley Senior Invitational last year, shares the senior division lead with Charles Hartline. They shot 72s.

Varn and Blackburn easily broke par Saturday despite being relative strangers to the course. They both had one round under their belts.

"I had no idea where to land the ball off the tee box," Blackburn said. "I was in some of the worst positions to come into the greens. I had five or six holes where that happened."

Blackburn struggled to shoot even-par 36 on the front nine. On the back nine, he started hitting more 2-irons and 3-woods off the tees instead of driver. The result was a 3-under-par 33 with birdies on Nos. 11, 14, 17 and 18 and a bogey on No. 12.

While Blackburn has four career Regions Cup victories, Boggs and Wright are seeking their first titles.

Wright had five top-five finishes in 2000, including runnerup finishes in this tournament and the River Club Open. Boggs was a runnerup in the Perry Watson Memorial.

"This is a golf course I can play," Wright said. "It's one of those courses where if you hit the ball in the middle of the green and don't make mistakes, your scores turn out to be OK. I never seem to make many birdies out here, but I make a lot of pars.

"When a golf course is hard, I generally do better," Wright said. "This is the kind of course where par is a good score."

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.

Savannah Lakes Village Classic
6,563 yards, par 72 Top 10, ties

Jay Blackburn 36-33-69

Bob Varn 34-36-70

Neel Boggs 34-37-71

Richard Maddox 34-38-72

Lad Wright 36-36-72

Jeff Keck 34-39-73

Ron Schroder 39-36-73

Jim Brisson 35-38-73

Jim Seagle 37-37-74

Doug Weiss 36-39-75

John Sheehan 37-38-75