Abilene Country Club
Abilene, Texas
Aug. 5-8, 2002

Qualifier Brown shoots career best, leads Girls Division by one

ABILENE, Texas - Martin Piller of Duncanville, Texas, Clay Hodge of Tyler, Texas, and Russell Helson of Georgetown, Texas, jumped to the early lead at the Abilene Reporter-News Junior after rounds of 6-under-par 65. In the Girls Division, Haley Brown of Austin, Texas, who won the Girls Qualifier held Sunday, opened a one-stroke lead after a 2-under-par 69.

The 54-hole tournament, conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, features 120 players representing 12 states and includes 101 Texas natives. It is being held at the par-71 Abilene Country Club. Past champions of the event include PGA TOUR players Scott Verplank (1981, '82), Phil Mickelson (1987) and LPGA Tour players Kelli Kuehne (1992, '93) and Emilee Klein (1990).

Piller put together a string of fantastic golf before a double bogey on the final hole dropped him back into a three-way tie for the lead. He eagled the 545-yard, par-5 13th and then birdied three of his next four holes to fire 3-under on the back nine.

"I am pleased with my score," Piller said. "It's a good solid start. I hit it really well and kept plugging away and making putts."

Piller knows he has to follow up his first-round performance with a strong second round to stay in the hunt. The tournament is still wide open as 36 boys took advantage of perfect playing conditions and shot par or better during the first round.

"There are a lot of people bunched between 65 and 69," Piller said. "If someone can get hot it will be anybody's tournament. Out here you can't put a limit on your score. You have to take it as deep as you can."

Hodge, who tied his career low en route to a bogey-free round, kept himself out of trouble all day. The highlight of his round was a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-3, 190-yard 14th. The 17-year-old said he did not putt well last week at the EDS Boys Junior Championship, but today his putter was true and the birdies kept falling.

During the past week Hodge said he changed his putting mentality. Instead of settling for two putts he decided to become more aggressive and go for broke.

"I tried not to worry about my second putt," Hodge said. "I loosened up out there and let it go on the greens. I was not as tentative as I had been."

Helson, 18, started his round with a bogey and then quickly got things turned around finishing his front nine with four birdies.

"I didn't have the greatest start," Helson said. "After that bogey I just wanted to give myself a chance. I felt like I had given the field two strokes."

Helson said he was pleased with his round but felt he left a lot of strokes on the course.

"On the back nine, I missed three or four birdie putts from within 10 feet," Helson said. "My score could have been better and it could have been worse. I really didn't make much of anything, but I like the position I am in."

Bronson Burgoon of The Woodlands, Texas, is tied with Palestine, Texas, natives Michael Douthit and Jeremy Frye in fourth place with 66s.

Brown, 16, was one of only two girls to post a round under par. She motored her way to a career-best 69 by taking advantage of what the course offered her. She hit every fairway in regulation and missed only two greens.

"It was boring golf," Brown said. "Nothing interesting happened out there. This course sets up nicely for me. I am a strong iron and fairway metal player and that is all you have to hit on this course."

Brown had a tap-in birdie on No. 1 after her eagle putt lipped out and that set the tone for the day. She was 2-under on the front nine and had three birdies to take a stroke lead into the second round.

Stacy Lewis of The Woodlands, Texas, stands in second with a 70 while Leslie Wall of Dallas and Kelly Louth of Victoria, Texas, are in third place after rounds of 73.

Second-round action begins tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. off No. 1. Tee times will run until 1:21 p.m.

For more information regarding the Abilene Reporter-News Junior, please contact our headquarters at (915) 692-5588.

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