Augusta Enjoys Futures Lead

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Futures TourBELTSVILLE, Md. -- In a week that began with 5 1/4 inches of rain within a 24-hour period, the opening round of the Children's Hospital Futures Golf Classic looked certain to be soggy.
 
But the inaugural event at Cross Creek Golf Club was blessed with warm and sunny conditions for Thursday's pro-am, and with dramatically improved conditions by today's opening round. In a herculean effort by the club's grounds crew, the flooded greens, fairways and bunkers were pumped and groomed, allowing veteran Kim Augusta to fire a 5-under-par 66 for the first-round lead.
 
It was an impressive start for more than one reason, said player Kris Tamulis of Naples, Fla. 'I walked the course on Wednesday and it took two days for my shoes to dry out,' she said. 'I'm amazed they got it to this condition. There's plenty of soft ground and it's wet, but all the casual water is gone.'
 
So were Augusta's worries with her flat stick. The non-exempt LPGA Tour member rolled in 26 putts with one three-putt green and moved closer to the elusive win she has sought for nine professional seasons.
 
'It has been my putting that's held me back,' said Augusta, 32, a native of Rumford, R.I. 'If you don't put yourself in that position every week, it's hard to get your momentum going. But I've remained the optimist. I've seen improvement every year. And I don't see the age thing.'
 
That's probably good since Augusta, who recorded eight birdies and three bogeys, is being chased by a group of young pros fresh out of college.
 
Meaghan Francella, 22, who just completed her final season at the University of North Carolina, carded her season-low round of 67 to take the first-round lead for most of the morning, but she was joined in the afternoon by recent Vanderbilt University grad Courtney Wood, who matched her 67 for a share of second place.
 
Hot on their heels was recent Ohio State University grad Allison Hanna, with a 3-under-par first-round score of 68, alongside second-year pro Heidi Chua of Manila, The Philippines.
 
'Sometimes you play your best golf on courses like this when you haven't seen it,' said Wood, 22, of Brentwood, Tenn. 'Because of the rain on Wednesday, I only played the front nine.'
 
But Wood hit 15 greens, 12 fairways, made no bogeys, sunk 29 putts and made a tough course look easy on a day when 22 players of the 144-player field scored in the 80s. The field just beat sunset to complete the late-finishing first round. For the day, 22 players scored at par or better and only six players ventured into the 60s. The course became increasingly punitive in the afternoon as winds kicked up and the greens quickened.
 
Putting, however, was the safest part of the game for many players in the first round of the inaugural $70,000 event. While the par-71 course measures 6,100 yards -- shorter than most Futures Tour venues -- the tight layout with numerous Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) kept rules officials hopping with more than 100 rulings for the day and players scowling over irretrievable miscues from tees and fairways. One player, Jessica Lewis of nearby Bethesda, Md., had a sizable 150-yard marker boulder rolled out of the way by four men on the 11th hole, only to ultimately lose her ball.
 
It was a day that required immeasurable patience, but rookie Francella played older than her years. She took last week off, returned to her college stomping grounds in Chapel Hill, N.C., and spent the week puzzling over mental strategies with her sports psychologist and putting mysteries with her swing coach. By the time she pointed her car toward the Washington, D.C. area for this week's tournament, her most pressing golf woes were sorted.
 
'I needed to get my head in the right place,' said Francella, playing in only her fourth Futures Golf Tour tournament as a professional. 'It all just clicked today and everything went in.'
 
Francella coaxed in 27 putts for a round that included five birdies and a single bogey. Hanna, who finished second last week in Syracuse, N.Y., hit 16 greens and each of the 13 fairways.
 
'We play all of these different kinds of courses out here and every week, I try to come up with a game plan and stick to it,' said Hanna, who joined the Tour in late May after the NCAA Women's Championship. 'On a course like this, you have to put yourself in the fairway. I didn't hit my driver super long, but I hit it straight.'
 
Lori Atsedes of Ithaca, N.Y., posted a 2-under-par round of 69 on a day that included four birdies and two 3-putt-bogeys.
 
'You have to play a little on the defensive here with a very controlled game,' said the veteran. 'I hit a lot of knock-down shots in the wind today. And I made some good saves and some good birdies.'
 
But keeping the ball in play is the name of the game at Cross Creek. And in the words of Atsedes, there's only one truth as certain as the summer rain.
 
'In golf, the player who rolls it well, wins,' said Atsedes.
 
Saturdays second round of the 54-hole tournament will begin at 8 a.m., off the first and 10th tees. The leaders will tee off at 1:51 p.m.
 
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