Tyler Mawhinney and Miles Russell got off to rough starts in the first round of the 17th Junior Players Championship on Friday.
But they proved on a cloudy, windy day at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass that they have a trait important to golfers — short memories.
Mawhinney, a Fleming Island resident, double-bogeyed his first hole, the par-4 10th, but was 5-under for the rest of the day, with birdies at Nos. 14 and 17, and shot 3-under 69 to finish in a tie for second, one shot behind leader Nicholas Gross of Downington, Pa., an Alabama commit.
Going for home field advantage: Miles Russell leads local contingent in 17th Junior Players Championship
Mawhinney is tied for Blades Brown of Nashville, the U.S. Amateur stroke-play medalist, and Asher Whitaker of Wichita, Kan., who has committed to Oklahoma.
Russell, a Jacksonville Beach resident and winner of the Junior PGA Championship last month, was 2-over at the turn, including a double-bogey at No. 4. But he birdied Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 14 to start his back nine, and shot 70 to tie for fifth with Simon Hovdal of Sweden, Nathan Miller of Dallas and Barry Zhang of China.
Junior Players Championship leaderboard
Junior Players Championship second round tee times
Area resident yet to win Junior Players
In the process, Mawhinney and Russell got their bids to break the First Coast drought in the area’s biggest annual junior tournament off to fine starts on a difficult day for scoring. A First Coast resident has never won the Junior Players, with Bud Cauley coming the closest in 2007 – the inaugural tournament – with a tie for third.
Camden Smith of Ponte Vedra Beach tied for fifth last year.
“I wasn’t really worried about anything because I had been playing great leading up to this and I had to keep hitting golf shots and making putts,” Mawhinney said of a tee shot he hooked out of bounds at No. 10. “I made an adjustment on the provisional and played pretty well after that.”
Mawhinney got up-and-down for birdie from the bunker at the par-5 11th, drained an 18-foot birdie putt at No. 14 and dropped an 8-footer for birdie on the Island Green at No. 17. He bogeyed the 18th but it was just a blip as he was bogey-free on the front nine highlighted by a 20-footer for birdie at No. 4.
Key shot at No. 14 for Russell
Russell had an adventuresome front nine with two birdies and two bogeys to go with his double at No. 4, courtesy of a chunked second shot into the water.
But he came out clubs blazing on the front. The 14-year-old made a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 10, converted a bunker shot for birdie at No. 11, made a 10-footer for birdie at No. 12 — and then hit the shot of the day at No. 14.
Russell’s drive found the rough on the right side and the best he could do was gouge it out short and right of the green, on a steep bank. Since he’s left-handed, Russell had a downhill lie to a front-hole position.
The ball was almost begging to be skulled over the green. But Russell’s pitch hit the flagstick and dropped into the cup.
All he could do was look at a large contingent of applauding family and friends and smile.
“I would have been happy with anything on the green,” he said.
He had a bit of a setback when he bogeyed No. 15 after trips to the pine straw along the fairway and a greenside bunker, but he got up-and-down for birdie at No. 16, lipped out for birdie at No. 17 and saved par at No. 18.
Two other area players broke par with 1-under 71s, Phillip Dunham of Ponte Vedra Beach and Jackson Byrd of St. Simons Island, Ga. Dylan Ma of Jacksonville shot 74.
Gross shot 4-under 32 on the front nine and was 5-under through 12. He dropped two shots at Nos. 14 and 17 but finished the round with a birdie at the last.
Defending champion Jeffrey Guan struggled with a 76.
The tournament continues Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Tyler Mawhinney, Miles Russell get into contention at Junior Players