Madison’s Jordan Griffith (above) carded a two-under-70 in the first round of the IHSAA boys golf state finals Tuesday at The Legends of Indiana Golf Course in Franklin to stand two strokes of the tourney lead at the midway point of the 36-hole state championship. Madison’s Carson Wattenbarger (below) was at 10-over-82 while playing in his first golf state finals. The final round begins at 8 a.m. today. (Photos special to the Courier by Steve Mcclure)
Madison’s Jordan Griffith (above) carded a two-under-70 in the first round of the IHSAA boys golf state finals Tuesday at The Legends of Indiana Golf Course in Franklin to stand two strokes of the tourney lead at the midway point of the 36-hole state championship. Madison’s Carson Wattenbarger (below) was at 10-over-82 while playing in his first golf state finals. The final round begins at 8 a.m. today. (Photos special to the Courier by Steve Mcclure)
After two previous trips to the IHSAA boys golf state finals, Madison's Jordan Griffith has picked up some important knowledge on playing the state's elite schoolboy event at The Legends of Indiana Golf Course in Franklin.

You can't win a state championship in the opening round, but you sure can lose one.

With that in mind, Griffith hovered around the top of the leaderboard throughout Tuesday's opening round before giving back a couple of strokes over the final three holes to stand three strokes off the midway lead of the 36-hole championship with a 2-under-70 heading into today's final round.

Griffith, and his coach Al Wilcox of Madison, evaluated Tuesday's round as mission accomplished in that Griffith is right where he needs to be to make a run at the Cubs' first individual state championship since Christian Poling was medalist in 2005.

"I couldn't have put myself in a much better position," Griffith said Tuesday. "I knew I just had to go out there and play a good round of golf. I just didn't want to shoot any 74s or 75s. You can shoot yourself out on the first day and I just made sure I didn't do that."

"The first day is position day and Jordan is right there," Wilcox added.

Griffith, a junior making his third trip to the state finals, was joined at The Legends by teammate and classmate Carson Wattenbarger, who was playing in his first state finals and carded a 10-over 82.

Wattenbarger's 82 would have missed the final round cut just a year earlier when the IHSAA pared the field after the first 18 holes. However, the tourney was modified to give every player a full 36 holes beginning this year so Wattenbarger will join Griffith in today's final round.

Both Madison players began their opening rounds early Tuesday morning on the first tee, the easier of the two nines, and concluded play by early afternoon on the tougher and often more windy back side.

Griffith carded four birdies and five pars en route to a 4-under-32 on the front nine before taking seven pars and bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17 on the closing nine for his 70. Wattenbarger played the front side in one-over-37 with seven pars to go with a birdie at No. 6 and a double-bogey at the par-3 seventh before shooting a 45 on the back that included bogeys at 13, 17 and 18 and double-bogeys at 10, 14 and 16.

"Carson just caught a few bad breaks," Wilcox said. "He was a little left of the par three on the front and took double and he caught a couple of tough breaks in the bunkers on the back nine.

"He was pretty upset about his round but Jordan and I pointed out to him that 82 is what Jordan shot up here last year," Wilcox said. "He was playing smart and making sure that if he missed holes he missed them in the bailout areas but the sand traps were just very hard and the balls were shooting right through them. He had one ball shoot right through the trap and out of bounds. Sometimes when you're playing smart it still doesn't work out for you, but that's just golf."

"This was his first experience in a tournament like this in probably the toughest field he's ever played in," Griffith said of his teammate. "He played OK and the good thing is he gets to come back out tomorrow and play again."

Griffith was pretty happy with his round - including the bogeys on 16 and 17 even thought they dropped him out of what would have been a four-way tie for the lead.

Griffith's bogey four at the par-3 16th started with a tee shot that missed the green in a bail-out area and a chip shot that stopped within four feet of the cup. He struck his par putt true only to have the ball strike a small pebble on the green and just veer wide of the hole for a bogey.

On the par-four 17th Griffith hit a bad drive that left him behind a tree and his second shot found a bad lie in a greenside bunker. He chipped out leaving himself a makeable putt but once again just missed to settle for bogey.

"I played pretty well and I scrambled well," Griffith noted. "Those were pretty good bogeys."

Griffith is tied for fifth with five players just a stroke back of Mishawaka Marian's Michael Makris in fourth at 69. Wattenbarger stands tied for 86th, 14 strokes of the opening round lead shared by Floyd Central's Devin Jenkins, Valparaiso's Kyle Meihofer and Zionsville's Adam Wood.

"I'm really pleased with Jordan and Carson," Wilcox said. "I'm proud of them and everybody in Madison should be proud of them. They represented the school and the community well. They play the game well and they play the game the right way.

"They both played a great front nine and hit a few rough spots on the back side that cost them a few strokes," Wilcox added. "I'm really happy with how well they played but they have some very high expectations and they set some very high goals for themselves."

Griffith said knowing that he could not miss the final round cut, as he did as a freshman in 2011 and sophomore in 2012, took a lot of the worry out of Tuesday's round.

"It takes a lot of pressure off knowing that you're going to get to play two days regardless," Griffith said. "I still didn't sleep too well last night but I think I'll be tired tonight and it will be a little easier to get to sleep."

Griffith and Wattenbarger will both begin their finals rounds on the back nine starting at 8 a.m. today. They will tee off at No. 10 and finish their 18-hole round at No. 9. Griffith said playing the course in that order could actually work in his favor today because the back nine is much less windy - and as a result far less difficult - in the early morning than in the late afternoon.

"When you play the back side in the morning you pretty much know there will be no wind and that will help me out a little bit," Griffith said. "I just need to go out and put up a good score and then see what that gets me."