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Raza shares AJGA lead

Sulman Raza lived up to his name.

The Eugene golfer's first name is of Pakistani origin, owing to his father's nationality. It means "peaceful."

And few things will leave a golfer awash in serenity as quickly and as thoroughly as tap-in birdie putts.

Raza was so overloaded with them Tuesday at Centennial Golf Club, it's a wonder he didn't doze off in the first round of the American Junior Golf Association tournament.

"All my birdies were little tap-ins inside three feet," said Raza, who shot a 4-under-par 68 for a share of the first-day lead in the Boys Division.

The string actually was broken with a birdie putt on No. 3 that was so long, it could have stopped for gas. Raza realized then he was playing a different game than usual.

"I wasn't used to taking a full stroke," he said. "My putting in the beginning from long range was fine, but I think it started going away because I started having these tap-ins. I kind of forgot my stroke and it just felt really odd (later in the round) having these 10-footers for birdie that I actually had to work for."

Raza started on the 10th tee, made seven birdies in his first 12 holes and was 5 under to that point.

A bogey on No. 7, his 16th hole, left him at 4 under.

Andrew Morgan, of Long Beach, Calif., started on the No. 1 tee in the second group of the day, made two birdies on each nine and shot a bogey-free 68 to match Raza.

The par-72 course is set up at 7,155 yards for the boys from the back tees.

Morgan was in the same threesome as Medford's Dylan Wu, who shot a 73 and was in a 15th-place tie.

The tournament, one of 90 staged nationally by the AJGA, is for kids 12-18 years old. It's the second straight year the tour has stopped at Centennial.

The second round of the 54-hole event is today, with morning and afternoon rotations. Following a cut, the top 50 percent of players and ties will advance to Thursday's final round.

There are 106 boys and 33 girls in the field.

Alexandra Kaui, of Las Vegas, came on strong on her second nine to lead the Girls Division. She was 3 under after the turn for a 69. Catherina Li, of Kent, Wash., was the only other player under par, fashioning a 70.

Raza was the Southwest Conference district champion and tied for fourth in the Class 6A state tournament last spring as a junior at South Eugene High. The future University of Oregon player has had abundant success in the junior ranks over the years — he's played in the Callaway Junior Worlds a handful of times.

This time around, he bypassed the Junior Worlds, which are this week in San Diego, to come here. He cited the outstanding condition of the course and the organization of the tournament as reasons for staying close to home.

Oh, and he also likes the greens at Centennial versus those at Torrey Pines, where the Callaway is being played.

"I was putting awful," he said of last year's visit to San Diego, "but I thought the greens were a little bumpy and not very fast at all."

Raza played in the AJGA Junior here last summer, tying for 17th. He decided afterward he should be below the holes on approach shots, and that's what he did Tuesday.

"I played a really good round," he said. "My approach shots and swing were in great tempo. I just stayed patient all day."

Raza birdied his second and fifth holes, then made the turn on the strength of birdies at Nos. 16, 17 and 18.

Most of the putts were nearly gimmies. When he had what he called his "first real putt" of length on his 10th hole, he blocked it right and made par.

Then came two more birdies, the one on No. 3 — the course's No. 1 handicap hole — breaking the pattern he'd established.

Raza was on the very front of the large green, and the pin was back right.

"I didn't even know how it went in," he said. "I was like, I don't know how this happened."

He began to wonder if this was the round in which everything he hit went in.

That changed, however, with the bogey on his 16th hole and two pars to finish the round after putting himself in birdie territory.

Raza, Morgan and Wu will all play in the afternoon today, teeing off shortly after 1.

Morgan and Wu started on hole No. 1, and the former was as steady as could be.

His birdies on the front side were on the fifth and ninth holes. He followed in kind on the back at 15 and 17.

Wu opened his day with a bogey 5 on the first hole, then birdied Nos. 5, 7 and 9.

His 2-under score through the first nine was bettered only by Raza and Landon Brown, of Santa Maria, Calif., who were 3 under.

But an uncooperative putter kept Wu from going lower. He had 18 putts on the back.

"I hit the ball pretty similar," he said. "I just couldn't make a putt. I had some bad course management at the end of the round. But it's not that bad of a round. I played pretty good throughout until the end."

With that — and putter in hand — he said, "I'm gonna go work on my putting."

Skyler Finnell, of Carmel, Calif., and Tommy Kummerfield, of Riverside, Calif., were in third place with 69s. Three players were tied for fifth at 70.

Two Grants Pass players are in the field. Cody Stoffel shot 80 and Ryan Melnychuk had an 87.

First Round

Top 10

Boys Division

1, Sulman Raza, Eugene, 68.

1, Andrew Morgan, Long Beach, Calif., 68.

3, Skyler Finnell, Carmel, Calif., 69.

3, Tommy Kummerfeld, Riverside, Calif., 69.

3, Lawrence Fu, Piedmont, Calif., 69.

6, Tom Swanson, Missoula, Mont., 70.

6, Robin Kang, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., 70.

6, Trey Kidd, Honolulu, 70.

9, Shearn Chua, Beaumont, Calif., 71.

9, Frank Garber, Kirkland, Wash., 71.

9, Trey Pflug, Portland, 71.

9, Landon Brown, Santa Maria, Calif., 71.

Girls Division

1, Alexandra Kaui, Las Vegas, Nev., 69.

2, Catherina Li, Kent, Wash., 70.

3, Allisen Corpuz, Honolulu, 72.

3, Amy Lee, Brea, Calif., 72.

3, Stephanie Lau, Fullerton, Calif., 72.

3, Caroline Inglis, Eugene, 72.

7, Sierra Kersten, Spokane, Wash., 74.

7, Jocelyn Chia, La Crescenta, Calif., 74.

9, Jamie Corr, Santa Clarita, Calif., 75.

10, Marianne Li, Bellevue, Wash., 76.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Sulman Raza tees off in the American Junior Golf Association tournament Monday at Centennial Golf Club in Medford. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore