The ninth-ranked and second seeded Tigers find themselves in fifth place overall with a 303 total, which is 16 shots off the pace set by top-ranked Duke after the first day.
Leading Auburn on the day was Leah Hart. A strong round of one-over par 73 highlighted a ho-hum day for the Tigers otherwise that saw the team hold on despite having a less than desirable start to the day. Auburn's leading scorer, Hage, shot a three-over score of 39 on the front nine and was four shots better than Martinez, who couldn't get anything going and limped to the turn at seven-over par.
Both All-SEC performers played much better on the back nine and Hage finished the day with a 76 while Martinez managed a 79 after firing even par on the last nine holes. Kingsley Barrett had a good day with a 74 while Jennifer Head rounded out Auburn's scoring with an 80. Coach Kim Evans says that the day was a battle, but her team fought through and put itself in position after the first day.
"Nicole Hage was pretty steady, but hit a pretty good bogey streak through six, seven and eight," Evans says. "She had some three-putts. We started out okay, but we just kind of lost it through five, six, seven and eight. On the backside we turned pretty good and settled down. Leah Hart played well and had a couple of birdies. Kingsley Barrett played steady all day and Maria finally settled down and had a couple of birdies and brought in a score.
"All in all for the first day I was hoping we would break 300. I'm not too happy, but they did a pretty good job all in all."
In addition to Duke's outstanding round UNLV (+9), Oklahoma State (+10) and Tulane (+13) are the only schools to have a better day than the Tigers. Rounding out the Top 10 were North Carolina (+15), Tennessee (+19), Florida State (+20), Miami, Fla. (+21), Florida (+22) and Wake Forest (+22). Just outside of the top 10 are Alabama (+23) and Furman (+24).
Auburn now turns its attention to trying to remain in the top eight in order to qualify for the NCAA Championships in two weeks at Grand National in Opelika. The other two regionals will also qualify eight teams apiece for the nationals. Evans says that is the main goal of the team now that Duke has run away from the field after one day of competition.
"Duke is pretty strong," Evans notes. "Duke has been winning just about every event this year. With them out of the equation we're only five shots out of second. That's what we're going to try to do is take the teams that are ahead of us in that little area and shoot for them."
Just six players finished under par on a glorious day in central Florida. Leading the individual standings is North Carolina's Meaghan Francella with a three-under round of 69 on Thursday while Liliana Alvarez of Tulane and Karin Sjodin of Oklahoma State are just behind at two-under par.
Round two gets underway Friday morning for some teams while Auburn is scheduled to tee off at 12:10 p.m. CDT. All of the action can be followed at www.golfstat.com.