EAST MANATEE -- The par-five No. 3 at The Concession Golf Club comes right before a gauntlet of difficult holes that makes up the final stretch of the front nine.
So when Claudio Correa stood within range of the green for his third shot during the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championships on Friday, he knew he had to get to the top of the green, where he could manage a birdie.
The shot felt perfect as it launched toward the clouds. The USF freshman saw it drift left before he lost sight of it. It was a pretty good shot, he thought to himself, knowing it would come back to the right. When it dropped on the green and started rolling, the gallery tried willing it to the hole with their cheers. Suddenly, Correa thought about more than just a birdie.
The crowd erupted. Correa was already in the lead and now at seven-under. Now he was thinking about the course record, a seven-under 65 held by former PGA Champion Paul Azinger.
"I got to seven-under and I was like, 'Holy (expletive),'" said Correa, a former IMG Academy golfer.
The final five holes did get him -- he bogeyed No. 5, No. 6 and No. 9 -- and he had to settle for a first-place tie with Illinois' Thomas Detry, the No. 26 player in the country. Still, the No. 74 player in the nation was the star of the first round and helped his No. 14 Bulls to a tie for eighth with a team score of plus-6.
The No. 4 Fighting Illini lead at 2 under par.
"My freshman year we finished second in the country, so that was kind of unexpected," Detry said. "We were just going in to the week with no expectation and just having fun, and that's exactly what we did. We had fun and we finished second. So it's just the same mindset this year."
The back nine where USF began Friday was largely the lower-scoring half of the course during the first round of the NCAA Championships -- both Correa and Detry birdied at least four holes there. USF head coach Steve Bradley has seen his team play enough golf at The Concession, though, to know that just weathering that part of the course would be enough to keep them in contention entering the second day of the championships.
The Bulls didn't play any officially sanctioned events at The Concession this year, but they did make the trip down from Tampa a handful of times to practice here, knowing it would help them come championship season.
"This course you will never be comfortable with. It's really tough," Correa said. "I've just been working for it the entire year."
Before the turn, USF sat at minus-2, and only one Bull shot worse than 2 over. On the final nine, two shot 6 over, and USF ended up 8 over par.
The final five holes lived up to their billing as some of the toughest on the course. Trey Valentine started with a double bogey on the water-filled fifth hole. Not long after, Rigel Fernandez hit a triple bogey. Overall, the Bulls shot 13 over on their final five holes, and only Chase Koepka's birdie on No. 8 gave them a hole under par.
"There's trouble on every golf shot," Bradley said. "It was just kind of the way it worked out. Tomorrow morning, we tee off on the front nine, so we'll get a chance to get to those holes probably before the wind picks up."
USF are guaranteed two more days of golf as a team and after Monday, the top eight teams will advance to the stroke-play quarterfinals, which begin Tuesday. No. 37 Florida and Florida State are also in the mix after finishing the first round in ties for sixth and 14th place respectively.
At 10-over, the top-ranked Seminoles are four strokes out of eighth. The No. 37 Gators are 5-over, seven strokes behind the first-place Illini.
On a course as difficult as The Concession, the leaderboard can turn quickly. Thirty-four players are even or better and 53 are within five strokes of the lead. The rigors of the club can make it difficult to come back.
It also means no one is going to run away.
"We're playing for the national championship," Correa said. "It's going to be like this for the entire tournament."