And the last shall be the first — at least for Alabama on the opening day of the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate.
Freshman Cheyenne Knight, playing in the Crimson Tide’s No. 5 position, outshined her elder classmates with a 4-under-par 67 on Friday that paced a quartet of Alabama players to shoot even-par or better at Long Cove Club.
The combination resulted in a three-stroke advantage over Virginia on a chilly, sometimes breezy opening round as the Crimson Tide seek their third Rucker team title in the event’s five-year history.
Knight, twice a Texas high school champion, shared the individual lead with Virginia’s Lauren Coughlin and Vanderbilt’s Alexandra Farnsworth. They were two strokes ahead of Virginia’s Elizabeth Szokol on the Pete Dye design.
Alabama’s Emma Talley, the reigning NCAA champion, and teammate Lakareber Abe were among a four-player cluster at 1-under 70, joined by Oklahoma State’s Linnea Johansson and North Carolina’s Elizabeth Mallett.
Eight more golfers were another stroke back, including Alabama senior Janie Jackson.
The Tide’s four scores left them with a team tally of 6-under 278. Virginia (281) and Vanderbilt (282) were the only other schools to break par as a unit.
Host South Carolina struggled, ending the day 25 shots behind Alabama’s pace in a share of 13th as nobody carded better than a 74.
Also absent from the top of the leaderboard were many of the expected contenders, including the top three teams in Golfweek’s college rankings.
No. 1 Southern California was 19 shots off the pace after combining for to shoot 13-over 297. Defending champion and second-ranked Duke was another two shots back, with an additional two shots to find No. 3 Georgia.
Duke sophomore Leona Maguire, who occupies the top spot in the world amateur women’s rankings, struggled to a 74 — second on the Blue Devils behind Sandy Choi (71). Maguire carded only two birdies on the day, which were offset by a double bogey at the 12th hole and four other bogeys on her scorecard.
Knight, meanwhile, bogeyed just once — the par-4 ninth hole — and pushed to the front with three birdies in her first five holes following the turn. Talley went bogey-free through her first 16 holes, carding her two birdies before giving one back at No. 17.
Darius Rucker Intercollegiate
At Long Cove Club
Friday’s first-round scores
5. North Carolina
6. Oklahoma State
9. Southern Cal
11. Wake Forest
T-13. Mississippi State
T-13. South Carolina
T-1. Cheyenne Knight, Alabama
T-1. Lauren Coughlin, Virginia
T-1. Alexandra Farnsworth,Vanderbilt
4. Elizabeth Szokol, Virginia
T-5. Elizabeth Mallett, North Carolina
T-5. Linnea Johansson, Oklahoma State
T-5. Lakareber Abe, Alabama
T-5. Emma Talley, Alabama