On a nearly cloudless day that makes Chamber of Commerce officials drool and golfers as pleased, Justin Thomas of Goshen, Ky., was the benefactor of his own vintage round, posting a course-record 7-under-par 65 to grab the boys' division lead Monday in the 35th Junior PGA Championship.
Thomas leads Oliver Schniederjans of Powder Springs, Ga., who opened with a 66, by one stroke. A group of seven players, including 2008 Champion Anthony Paolucci of Del Mar, Calif., are five strokes back of Thomas and sit in a tie for third.
Coming off a runner-up finish last week at the U.S. Junior Amateur, Thomas began his round on fire with a birdie on the first hole, followed by an eagle on the 535-yard par-5 second.
"I played well to start and took advantage when I could," said Thomas, who became the third youngest player to make the cut on the PGA Tour at the 2009 Wyndham Championship. "I felt like a couple times, especially after the first few holes, I got it going and thought about the result too much. That cost me."
The 17-year-old Thomas, who closed with four birdies and no bogeys on his back nine, understands that the Championship has a long way to go.
"It's a four day tournament," said Thomas. "I am happy to have put myself where if I can put three more solid days together I will be right in it. Usually when stuff like this happens recently it's just a one day thing. Hopefully it will keep going."
The elite field assembled at Sycamore Hills Golf Club will present a strong test, but Thomas has his mind set on victory this week.
"I have the same goal every week, I want to win," said Thomas. "You don't come to a tournament unless you want to win and feel you can win."
Schniederjans, ranked 3rd in the Polo Golf Rankings, opened the Championship in fine fashion, carding four birdies and no bogeys on the front nine.
"I started off pretty well, with a birdie at No. 2. Then I birdied Nos. 5, 6 and 7, which really got my round going," said the 17-year-old. "I was trying to birdie every hole and get it as close as I could to every pin."
With all the great scores on the PGA Tour as of late, Schniederjans believes low scores are there for the taking in Fort Wayne.
"I feel good about my game. I just kept thinking, everybody is shooting 59, so why can't I do it," said Schniederjans. "I came out today and wanted to birdie every hole. I know I have the game to do it."
In the girls' division, Mariah Stackhouse of Riverdale, Ga., and Puerto Rico's Kyle Roig each turned in a 70, one stroke better than Casie Cathrea of Livermore, Calif., and Kendall Martindale of Jefferson City, Tenn. Only four girls broke par in the opening round.
Stackhouse, who won the USGA Women's State Team Championship played at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in 2009, felt extremely comfortable with the par-72 layout.
"It was kind of like playing at your home course," said Stackhouse. "It made me more relaxed."
Stackhouse and Roig, who played together during the opening round, were extremely comfortable playing alongside each other.
"This is the most fun I have had in serious golf in a long time," said Stackhouse. " I played with Kyle and we were walking up fairways, talking and having a good time. It made the round easier."
Roig, who finished in a tie for 13th in the 2009 Junior PGA Championship, offset two bogeys with four birdies in her opening round.
"I have really been working on my game, improving each week and it really paid off," said Roig, a recent UCLA commiment. "I don't have the pressure of picking a school anymore so that has helped a whole lot."
The 72-hole tournament features a 54-hole cut to the low 30 boys and 30 girls, including ties, following the third round of play on Wednesday.
This year's field consists of past winners of the Championship, PGA Junior Series event champions, PGA Section winners, many of Polo Golf and Golfweek's top-ranked players, and selected national junior tournament winners.
Also at stake is a berth on the 2010 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup Team. The champion and runner-up in each division, provided they are a member of the 2011 or later graduating class, will be exempt to the Junior Ryder Cup, which will be conducted at the Gleneagles Hotel and Resort, Sept. 27-28, 2010, in Perthshire, Scotland.
Golf Channel will present a one-hour highlight program of the 2010 Junior PGA Championship, with the first airing on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 8:00 ET.
About the Junior PGA Championship
Begun in 1976, the Junior PGA Championship has traditionally produced unforgettable golf performances and brings together the best junior golfers from around the country to compete for the Jack Nicklaus Trophy in the Boys' division and the Patty Berg Trophy in the Girls' division.
About The PGA of America
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By establishing and elevating the standards of the golf profession through world-class education, career services, marketing and research programs, the Association enables PGA Professionals to maximize their performance in their respective career paths and showcases them as experts in the game and in the multi-billion golf industry.
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