Joe Affrunti shoots well in return to PGA

MEMPHIS – Massive digital scoreboards were everywhere to remind Joe Affrunti of his standing in the first round of the PGA Tour's FedEx St. Jude Classic Thursday at the TPC Southwind in Memphis.

But the Crystal Lake native, who made his first PGA start in nearly two years, didn't even glance at them. Affrunti fired off a 2-under-par 68 and is tied for 18th place headed into Friday's 8:39 a.m. tee time. 

A back-nine run at the top of the leaderboard with consecutive birdies on Affrunti's 11th and 12th holes moved him briefly into a tie for sixth place at 3-under. He's currently two shots behind six leaders.  

"The leaderboard is so bunched up right now," said Affrunti, who had four birdies and two bogeys. "I just wanted to go out and hit good golf shots and make as many birdies as possible. This is a tough golf course."

Affrunti found the challenges TPC Southwind provides on No. 18, when a wayward tee shot left him with a lie in the rough, behind a mogul. He posted his first bogey of the round, but quickly mounted a back nine charge to keep the positive rhythm he said he felt on the range and early in the round. 

Extra time spent on the putting green Wednesday paid off, as Affrunti didn't three putt and hit 77 percent of greens in regulation.

"That's the key," Affrunti said. "Keep the momentum going. I got up and down for birdie or par when I had to. That's huge. I don't want to throw shots away. A tournament can't be won on Thursday, but it can be lost."

When Affrunti faced a lie with the ball buried in thick Bermuda rough and a massive oak tree in his way on the seventh hole, a 482-yard par-4, he got the kind of bounce normally reserved for members. 

Playing a low, knockdown shot, Affrunti blasted the ball through a series of branches. The ball rolled onto the green as the sound of the ball hitting hard wood echoed through the grounds.

Jokingly, Affrunti suggested it might be some karmic payback for a pair of putts that died out just short earlier in the round. As he crossed a service road to head to the next tee box, Affrunti joked he'd "hit quite a curveball" to a small group of Crystal Lake natives that were following his round.

"When you play enough, you get used to the funny bounces," Affrunti said. "You take the good with the bad and move on. I just try and take advantage of the good ones when they happen. I hit a lot of good putts that just didn't go in either. So maybe I got one back there." 

Just because he made a run on a Thursday, Affrunti isn't satisfied. He visited the short game practice area on the range and putted after the round. He said he can still go to another level. 

"My game is still coming around," said Affrunti, who was unavailable to speak immediately after the round because he was selected by the PGA for a random drug test. "I thought I would be better last week, but still felt solid. Today I went out and felt good and just got better results.

"It's only Thursday. Getting into the zone, half of it depends on the situation." 

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