The winners of the last four Tillinghast Invitational golf tournaments were grouped together in Saturday’s first round, and they played like they didn’t want to give up the crown.
Mark Baggarly and Chip Spratlin each shot four-under-par 68 to share the lead after the first round of the eighth annual tournament at Johnson City Country Club.
Baggarly is the defending champion, while Spratlin won the previous three championships.
“I played pretty well,” Spratlin said. “I hit a lot of decent shots, but I really didn’t make any putts. My longest one was 10 feet. I probably could have shot a couple less, but that was about it. I got about as much as I could have gotten out of my round.”
Spratlin, who won the 1995 NCAA individual championship while playing at Auburn, was four under par at the turn before playing the back nine even.
Meanwhile, it took Baggarly some time to get going. After he failed to make a birdie on the first six holes, he hit his tee shot at the par-3 seventh within four feet to get things headed in the right direction. Another birdie at the eighth was erased by an unsightly bogey at the par-five ninth.
“That bogey really felt like a double or a triple,” said Baggarly, who usually takes advantage of the par-fives.
Not to worry. The defending champ then played the back nine in three under par to post his 68, one shot higher than his opening round last year.
“I just played very steady, very solid,” said Baggarly, a former University of Florida golfer. “I had to stay patient. It was tricky. The wind was swirling and the course was firm and fast. It was tough.”
Six golfers broke par on the short but firm A.W. Tillinghast layout. The greens were hard, smooth and quick, making scoring difficult.
Middle Tennessee State golfer Lucas Armstrong shot 69 and was one shot back. Bryan Sangid shot 70 and was followed by 71s from Matt Bowers and Nick Kyte.
Reigning East Tennessee Amateur champion Ben Treadway shot 72 and led a group at even par that also included Bryan Bentley, Leif Ratliff, Tommy Miller, Ben Campbell and Nick York.
Tennessee Wesleyan basketball and golf coach Mike Poe led the senior division with a 69. He’ll have a three-stroke lead over Mike Freels when the final round begins. Freels’ 72 included a penalty for hitting a wrong ball.
Also in the senior division, Eddie Bailey shot 73, while Lyman Fulton and Tony Gouge shot 74.
With thunderstorms in today’s forecast, many of the golfers were just hoping to get today’s final round in. The leaders are scheduled to go off at 1:30 p.m.
“It’s always fun when you have a chance,” Spratlin said. “I just hope we’re able to play all 18. The way I play every tournament, I just want to have a chance with four holes to go. Typically, whoever plays best on the last four holes wins. I hope I play halfway decent tomorrow. You never know what’ll happen.”
That’s where Baggarly won his championship last year. He was tied with two holes to go when a birdie-bogey two-shot swing gave him some cushion coming home.
Baggarly, Spratlin and Armstrong will be in the final group today.