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NY teen makes 5th try for golf title

Nicole Morales wants to win the U.S Girls’ Junior Championship – badly.

It is her fifth time playing in the tournament.

“It’s my last U.S. Girls’ Junior, and I’m going to go for big,” said the 17-year-old from South Salem, N.Y.

And she’s off to a good start; her first-round 3-under 69 at Sycamore Hills Golf Club on Monday put her in a seven-way tie for fourth place, two strokes back of the leader, Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach, Calif.

Morales may have been hoping for a smooth, worry-free warm-up for the tournament, but she didn’t get that.

She had four delayed flights and missed two connecting flights on her way to Fort Wayne, stranding her in Atlanta on Saturday night and leaving her with no practice rounds.

She had to call an acquaintance – Stephen Hamblin, the executive director of the American Junior Golf Association – to pick her up in Atlanta and get her a place to stay before she arrived in the Summit City on Sunday, though her clubs arrived one flight later.

Luckily, Morales already had some course knowledge, having played Sycamore Hills in the Junior PGA Championship twice before. She tied for 12th in that four-day stroke play event in 2012 at 4 over, and she was 30th in 2010 at 16 over.

“I felt very confident on this course,” said Morales, who was one of the top tennis players in New York – her father is a tennis professional – before she committed to golf full time.

She won the AJGA’s Polo Championship in 2011. That tournament has a similar format to the Girls’ Junior – two days of stroke play and then match play – and she trailed going onto the back nine in both the semifinals and finals.

The top 64 players after today will advance to match play in the USGA tournament, which concludes Saturday.

“My (first) round was great,” said Morales, who will play collegiate golf for Alabama.

“I got off to a really good start. It was an interesting start. I had to make a 20-footer on No. 1 for par, out of the bunker. And I stuck it to a foot on No. 2, then birdied (Nos.) 2 and 3. I did have a stupid bogey on No. 5, but I stuck it to a foot again on No. 6 and birdied.”

Seven of the players in the top 10 are younger than 17; Lee is 14.

“I feel like I was very patient with myself all day and gave myself a lot of opportunities,” Morales said.