Junior Ian McConnell shot a 2-under-par 142 for 36 holes on Monday to help Liberty University to a 17-stroke lead over host South Carolina after the first day of play at the fifth annual Rees Jones Collegiate Invitational at Haig Point Club on Daufuskie Island.
The Flames amassed a 574 total while South Carolina has 591 in the play-five-count-four format. Winthrop is in third place at 594.
McConnell shot scores of 68-74, one of only two individual 36-hole totals under par on the day. Liberty also had the next two best scores. Niklas Lindstrom, a junior from Sweden, and Max McKay, a senior from Jacksonville, Fla., helped the Flames' effort with totals of 1-under 143 and even-par 144, respectively.
"The first 12 holes were probably the best I've ever played," said McConnell, who started his day at the par-4 13th hole. "I really got it going. My goal was just to hit as many greens as I could and see if I could make some putts from there."
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McConnell made six birdies in his opening round, including three in a row over Nos. 4-6. He also birdied the signature 194-yard par-3 17th hole on the marsh twice on the day; once from 3 feet and the next time from 20 feet. McConnell used his belly putter to perfection, only 3-putting once in 36 holes.
"I was missing too many putts," said McConnell of his switch from a conventional putter length about 18 months ago. "I made the change and I've never looked back."
"I just asked the guys to be better than we've been the first two tournaments," Liberty head coach Jeff Thomas said. "I'm excited about how well the guys played. We've been waiting for this day."
Host South Carolina was led by Dykes Harbin, a senior from Augusta, Ga., who was tied for the third best 36-hole score at 144. Winthrop's top scorer was Kamito Hirai, a senior from Summerville, who posted a total of 146, including a 3-under-par 69 for his first round.
Overall, there were just three scores under par for the first round and two for the second round.
Two-time defending champion Kennesaw State sits in sixth place among the 12 teams, but is already 35 shots behind the leader with just 18 holes remaining.
Play starts today with an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start. The 7,380-yard, par-72 layout has been acclaimed as one of the top 100 courses in the country. Tickets are available at $10 each, which includes ferry transportation from Hilton Head Island.