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No. 20 Auburn men’s golf to open NCAA Championship play Friday

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SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – The No. 20 Auburn men’s golf team fired a 6-under 282, its second lowest NCAA Championship opening round, and leads after the morning wave on Friday at Rich Harvest Farms. Jacob Solomon fired a 5-under 67 while Matt Gilchrest carded a 3-under 69.

Solomon’s 67 is tied for the lowest opening round in Auburn NCAA Championship history with Gilchrest in 2014 and NCAA Champion Chip Spratlin in 1995. It is tied for the second lowest round in the Tigers’ NCAA Championship history behind Kevin Haefner’s 66 in the third round in 2000.

Auburn’s round is its sixth lowest NCAA Championship round in history.

“It’s a good start to the week,” said head coach Nick Clinard. “This is a long week on a tough golf course. I’m very proud of the guys. They had a good start, we’ll get some rest and get ready for tomorrow.”

Beginning on No. 10 at 6:45 am CT, Auburn was under par all day and led all the other 14 morning wave teams nearly the entire round, finishing five shots ahead of Alabama and No. 22 Ole Miss, the next closest.

“They are big-time players,” said Clinard of Gilchrest and Solomon. “Matt Gilchrest has been a stalwart for us for four years now. Jacob has been playing some great golf at home. He has a lot of confidence in his ability and knows he is swinging the golf club very well, and it just depends on how many putts he makes.”

The Tigers jumped out to a quick start going 5-under in the first few holes and continued their steady play throughout. Solomon is in second, a shot behind Ole Miss’ Braden Thornberry. The Dublin, Calif., sophomore made seven birdies at Nos. 11, 13, 18, 3, 4, 7 and 9. He chipped in for birdie on the par-4 4th.

“It went awesome today,” said Solomon. “Probably couldn’t have gone any better. I did leave a couple of short putts out there, but I did just about everything right that I had to do around this golf course to shoot a low number. I was driving the ball really well. The iron play was good and even when I missed the green, I was scrambling really well.

“I had a chip-in. I couldn’t be happier with the start today. I hit a great drive and left my iron shot a little short of the green in the rough and just popped it up, and it rolled really nice. It was a perfect speed and went in. It was awesome.”

Gilchrest, who made All-NCAA Region tying for third in West Lafayette, Ind., just over a week ago, continued his strong play as he is tied for xxth at 3-under with a chip-in eagle on No. 18 and birdies at Nos. 12, 3 and 9, his finishing hole.

“I played really well,” said Gilchrest. “I got off to a good start and had some crucial up and downs. I had an eagle chip-in. That was probably the highlight of my day and finished it off with a birdie.”

Gilchrest continued about his eagle chip-in, “That was awesome. I actually thought I was in trouble because I had a lot of mud on the ball. I landed it on the green and never left the flag and went in.”

Ryan Benton and Trace Crowe are had 1-over 73s. Benton had birdies at Nos. 11, 16 and 18 while Crowe had five birdies at Nos. 11, 18, 2, 6 and 9 along with a double bogey at the par 5 7th after his drive hit into the lip of the fairway bunker. Jovan Rebula shot a 74.

“It’s very important,” said Clinard as each Tiger was in the hunt. “It is something we always talk about. You have to have a lot of grit and a lot of grind and have all five guys in it coming down the stretch. We made some mistakes coming in. We made some bogeys on 7 and 8 that cost us, but it was a good start to the week, and we will be ready to go the rest of the week.”

Auburn plays in the afternoon wave in Tuesday’s second round, teeing off No. 1 at 12:05 pm with the same two teams, Ole Miss and Duke.

“It’s important, but we have to keep playing offense,” said Gilchrest. “Having a lead doesn’t mean you get to play back to the field. It’s a great spot. It’s what we wanted to do. We teed off this morning, and we have to keep playing offense from here.”

Other scores from morning wave teams include No. 24 Florida State (289), No. 25 Pepperdine (289), No. 23 Arizona State (290), Iowa State (293), North Carolina (293), Jacksonville (294), Kennesaw State (297), New Mexico (297), No. 19 Duke (298), Purdue (298), Lipscomb (300) and Penn State (301).

Auburn is one of only six teams to appear in six consecutive NCAA Championships. It is Auburn’s 22nd overall appearance.

The 30-team NCAA Championship field will be cut in half along with the low nine individuals not on those teams after three rounds of stroke play after Sunday. Those teams will be paired down to the final eight after Monday’s round to compete in match play. The NCAA Championship medalist will be determined Sunday.

The match play quarterfinals and semifinals both take place on Tuesday at 7 am and 1:30 pm, respectively. The NCAA Championship match is on Wednesday at 2:10 pm.

Golf Channel will televise the NCAA Championship live on Monday from 4-7 pm Central, Tuesday from 10:30 am -12:30 pm and 3:30-7 pm and Wednesday from 3-7 pm.

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