Robert Karlsson carded a one-under par 71 during the opening round of the Golfweek Conference Challenge on Sunday.
The Flames find themselves in a share of sixth place following the first round of the season-opening event, the Golfweek Conference Challenge, which is being played at the Spirit Hollow Golf Course. The event is one of the premier early season collegiate golf tournaments of the year, as 12 of the 15-team field finished the 2009-10 season ranked inside the Top 75 of the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Liberty finished the season just outside the mark at No. 88, which was the best end of the season ranking in program history. Iowa, the event's host, holds a commanding lead following 18 holes of action. The Hawkeyes blistered the par-72, 7,021 course, firing a 20-under par 268 and lead second-place N.C. State by 15 strokes (five-under par 283). Southeastern Louisiana and Baylor are tied for third following three-under par 285s, while New Mexico carded an even par 288 during their opening rounds. The Flames finished their opening round with a one-over par 289 and are tied with future Big South member Campbell. Iowa's commanding first-round lead is due in large part to the play of two of its top golfers, Chris Brant and Brad Hopfinger. Brant leads the field of 75 golfers following an opening round eight-under par 64, while Hopfinger is one shot behind him with a seven-under par 65. Nevada's Scott Smith and Baylor's Joakim Mikkelsen are tied for third place following rounds of four-under par 68, while four golfers share fifth place at three-under par 69. Robert Karlsson, the reigning Big South Golfer of the Year, was one of the 23 golfers to post red numbers on Sunday, as the junior leads the Flames following a one-under par 71. Karlsson, who is tied for 13th place, opened the day with a birdie on the par-5 No. 10 hole and then used birdies two of his last three holes to negate two earlier bogeys in the day and finish under par. Preston Dembowiak is tied for 24th place, following an even par round of 72. The lone senior in Liberty's starting five for this event posted birdies on the par-4 No. 14 and par-3 No. 3 holes, but dropped shots on No. 2 and No. 12 to finish at level par. Chase Marinell and Ian McConnell, both true freshmen playing in their first collegiate events, carded one-over par rounds of 73 and are tied for 32nd place with six other golfers. A birdie by Marinell got the Fort Myers, Fla., native to one-under following 13 holes of action; however, the freshman dropped shots at No. 6 and 7 to finish the day at one-over par. McDonnell also got into red figures on his back nine, birding holes No. 2, 3 and 4 in succession. However, the freshman bogeyed his last two holes, the par-4 No. 8 and 9 to finish the day tied with his fellow rookie teammate. Liberty's final golfer in the field is Max McKay, who carded a four-over par 76 and is tied for 53rd place, along with New Mexico's Sam Chavez and Iowa's Bradley George. The reigning Big South Freshman of the Year was able to overcome a double bogey, bogey streak on his sixth and eighth holes with a birdie on his ninth hole. However, he dropped shots on three of his first five holes on the back side to finish at four-over par. Liberty's starting five will be among the first off the tees tomorrow, as the Flames will start off No. 1 tee at Spring Hollow Golf Course along with golfers from East Carolina and San Francisco at 9 a.m. (CST). Tomorrow's 18 holes of action will mark the middle rounds of the three-day, 54-hole season-opening event for Liberty.