State

Turlock's Smith carries on Masters golf tradition

STOCKTON -- After skipping one year, the Smith Family dynasty is alive and well.

Turlock junior Paul Smith survived a spectacular roller-coaster ride of a round Monday morning at The Reserve at Spanos Park, finally landing with a three-under-par 69 and medalist honors at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Golf Tournament.

He will be joined in next Monday's NorCal regional championships by Oakdale senior Austin Whitworth, whose very steady four-birdie, two-bogey 70 was the day's second-lowest round.

Troy Bennett of Pitman fired a one-over-par 73 to miss a possible playoff by one stroke. Defending champion Daniel Covrig of Johansen, who was the Masters' medalist last year with a 75, bettered that by a stroke but did not advance.

Jesuit (375,) along with Folsom and Christian Brothers (384) advanced as teams into the NorCal round.

Smith's older brother Sam Smith, now a freshman at the University of Southern California, won this tournament as both a sophomore and junior before faltering last year in gale conditions.

But other than a hard rain that fell for about three holes midway through Monday's round, Spanos Park was seeing abnormally docile conditions. If anything, the rains slightly softened the greens, while the wind didn't come up over the course until the players had loaded into vans.

"I'd take this weather over last year by far," said Smith. "What wind we did have was switched around from the normal direction. Like on No. 2 (a 528-yard par-5) I normally hit driver, 3-wood, wedge because it's into the wind. Today I hit driver, 5-iron to pin-high, which was nice."

Smith began his round on the par-4 fifth hole and proceeded to play the opening eight holes without recording a par. He made bogey at holes 5, 7 and 9, offsetting the stumbles with birds at 6, 8, 10, 11 and 12.

"I've never done that before," Smith said. "Then after the third straight birdie I didn't have another for eight straight holes. It was a very strange round but I enjoyed it because I seldom have those kinds of awkward rounds."

Next week's round at Diablo Grande will be Smith's last of the season at the high school level. Even if he should shoot low enough to qualify for the state tournament, he's already committed to playing in a big American Junior Golf Association tournament in Phoenix during that time slot.

"I want to go to school at Oregon, and the Phoenix tournament is the one the college coaches will be watching more than the California State tournament," Smith said. "The Oregon people are the ones I have to impress."

Whitworth began on the 12th hole in the shotgun start, which was additionally strange for him since this was the first time he'd ever seen the course. He mixed bogeys at the Par-3 15th and at No. 2 with birdies at 12, 16, 4 and 11, playing the course as if he were familiar with it.

"That was an overall solid round for me," said Whitworth, a first-time Masters qualifier who is aiming to play next year at Modesto Junior College. "I was being consistent and taking chances here and there. I missed a couple birdie putts and left a few strokes out there but I'll take this."

Bennett, also seeing the course for the first time, should get another shot at it next year since Spanos Park seems to have settled in as a convenient and suitable location for the Masters.

"My goal was to shoot even par, and I'm happy with the 73," said Bennett, who received a fifth-place medal after shooting his lowest-ever tournament score. "I heard it's normally really windy out here, so I figured today was a pretty lucky day for us with just light breezes."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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