Only three players -- Ben Martin, Thomas Todd and Augusta State's Mitch Krywulycz -- were able to better par of 70 at Palmetto Golf Club on Wednesday. Martin opened with 2-under-par 68, good for a one-shot lead over Todd and Krywulycz, who won the Southeastern Amateur in Columbus, Ga., on Sunday.
Martin made six birdies, including three on the final five holes. Martin won this event in 2006, the last time it was played at Palmetto. The event was held last year at Midland Valley Country Club because of course renovations.
Recent changes to the venerable course, which traces its roots to 1892, left many in the 93-player field scratching their heads after finishing their round. The course was closed last summer to have new greens and fairways installed.
Combine that with the addition of some new tees and bunkers in recent years, and the course played difficult.
Augusta State golf coach Josh Gregory was four shots back after shooting 72, and he said the setup was similar to a U.S. Open.
"Length is not that big a deal, but you have to be protective of trying to leave it in right spots," Gregory said.
Case in point was Gregory's bogey on the 18th hole, a short par-4 of just over 300 yards. After finding the fairway off the tee, he mis-hit his approach and came up well short of the green. His chip wound up on the fringe, and he two-putted for a disappointing bogey.
"It's pretty demanding around the greens," said Gregory, who almost qualified for this year's U.S. Open.
Gregory did get the better of one of his star players, Henrik Norlander. The Swede made bogeys on five of his first six holes but rallied to shoot 4-over 74.
"It's tough," Norlander said. "With soft greens, it's an easy course, but now it's tough to get it close."
Norlander will return home Sunday and will compete in several events throughout Europe this summer. He was qualified to play in the British Amateur, but had to skip it in order to complete summer school classes.
Aiken native Patrick Cunning, who will be a senior at the University of South Carolina in the fall, said Palmetto was playing as tough as he had ever seen. He's among a handful of players within striking distance in the 72-hole tournament, which concludes Saturday.
"A lot of pins were tucked today. You had to take your medicine," said Cunning, who shot 72.
Cunning also had a tough start with three consecutive bogeys, but a birdie from the bunker on the par-3 7th turned his day around.
"It would've been a bogey if it hadn't gone in," he said.
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.