All birdies on front nine puts Byrne team in lead

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Not even a two-hour rain delay during the morning could stop several teams from shooting in the 50s in the first round of the 13th annual Joe Fortunato Celebrity Golf Classic Saturday at Duncan Park.

A total of eight teams finished with scores below 60, led by Mary Kate Byrne, Bub Mullins, Howard Jones and Tripp Bryant, who took advantage of a fantastic front nine to take the lead at 15-under-par 56.

The Byrne-Mullins-Jones-Bryant team, which played in the morning and started on No. 2, birdied every hole on the front nine for a score of 26. Pars on Nos, 13, 15 and 17 prevented them from shooting in the 20s on the back nine, but they still shot a 30.

Email newsletter signup

&8220;We had a lot of fun,&8221; Byrne said. &8220;The course was in great shape, I thought. We knew the two par-3s on the back nine were tough. We had trouble with our second shot on 17. Everybody played really well today. The front nine was a lot of fun. We really enjoyed it.&8221;

Three teams are just two shots back in the championship flight after having rounds of 13-under-par 58 &8212; David Francis, Joe Smith, Claude Hewitt and Bob M. Dearing, who played in the morning; Jim Provost, Marvin Oxley, Leonard Watkins and K.G. Watkins; Anthony Heidelberg, Zip Fleming and Clay Arnold, who played in the afternoon.

&8220;Each of us had three different teams, so we lost nine players,&8221; Fleming, of Oceanside, Calif. said of himself, Heidelberg and Arnold. &8220;Seems liked it worked out well. Clay drove the ball real well. It was his day, but we putted and chipped well.&8221;

The Francis-Hewitt-Smith-Dearing team, which started on No. 14, got off to a slow start with just two birdies in their first five holes. But after an eagle on the par-4 first hole, they birdied nine of their final 12 holes.

Four teams are three shots back at 12-under-par 59 &8212; Sally Durkin, Mark Carter and Josh Hargon as well as Louie, Doug, Dean and Dwayne Brown, as both teams played in the morning; Chuck Fields, Adam Cardneaux, Christian Krueger and Tommy McDonald; and Kurt Russ, Adrian Sandel, Chad Huber and Billy Ulmer, who played in the afternoon.

&8220;Wet and soggy play,&8221; Russ said.

The groups that started in the morning endured the weather delay that started at 10 a.m. and lasted until noon. That forced the afternoon groups to start their first round at 2:30 p.m.

&8220;The groups have persevered the weather real well and handled the weather conditions like no other groups can,&8221; Duncan Park golf pro Marvin Gray said just after play resumed. &8220;They&8217;re having a great time. They&8217;re here to support scholarships for the scholar athletes. And we all want our young people to do as well as they can.&8221;

&8220;Some of them cancelled because of the rain or we would&8217;ve had 200,&8221; Joe Fortunato said.

The weather did scare a few people away from playing in the afternoon. In all, there were 144 people that comprise the 36 groups after 156 people had registered. Still, that&8217;s more than the 111 that played last year.

&8220;The increase in participation is due to the hard work of the committee and the involvement of the community in support of the scholarships for scholar athletes that are funded by this tournament.&8221;