Preston Dembowiak hits an approach shot during his opening round at the NCAA Arizona Regional, en route to a four-under par 67.
No. 5 seed Liberty overcame a tough opening at the 2011 NCAA Arizona Regional, closing with a strong back nine to secure a third-place finish following the first 18 holes of action on Thursday at the 54-hole event. Liberty, currently ranked No. 27/30 in the country, offset three double bogeys and seven bogeys with six birdies to make the turn at the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort at three-over par as a team. After starting competition in the morning off the No. 10 tee, Liberty made the turn near the bottom of the 14-team leaderboard. However, the Flames made a dramatic turn during their last nine holes at the former PGA Tour stop, as Liberty posted 10 birdies to just three bogeys during the closing holes to catapult Liberty up the first round leaderboard. The Flames only trail No. 2 seed San Diego State and No. 6 seed Washington in a 14-team field that features 12 programs ranking inside the last Top 75 team rankings. No. 2 seed San Diego State got strong play from its No. 2 and No. 4 golfers to claim the first-round lead with a six-under par 278. No. 6 seed Washington, who Liberty was paired with during the opening round, had two golfers finish in red figures to take second place with a five-under par 279. The Flames finished the day with a four-under par 280, and are one shot clear of host Arizona and No. 1 seed Texas A&M, who carded three-under par rounds of 281. The final team to find red figures on the day was No. 3 seed Texas Tech, which posted a one-under par 283. The top five teams at the end of the three-day event, plus the low individual not on one of the top five teams, will advance to the NCAA National Championship May 31-June 5 at the Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. Leading the way for the Flames is reigning Big South individual medalist Preston Dembowiak, who opened up his first career NCAA Regional showing with a four-under par 67. Fresh off his first collegiate victory at last month's Big South Championship, the senior found some trouble early, but was able to recover. Dembowiak was one of three Flames to bogey the par-3, No. 17 hole, Liberty's eighth of the day, but strung together three straight birdies to get to two-under par. The impressive run included a birdie three on the par-4, No. 2 hole that played at 495 yards and only yielded four total under-par scores on the day. The senior followed with birdies on No. 5 and No. 8, a par-four and par-five, to tie his third-lowest 18-hole total of the season. Following the four-under par 67, the senior finds himself in a three-way tie for third place, along with Texas Tech's Nils Floren and Arizona's Tarquin MacManus. UC Davis' Matt Hansen leads the 75-man field, following a seven-under round of 64 that saw him card eight birdies and one bogey. Oregon State's Alex Moore is in second place two shots back after a five-under par 66. Liberty's second golfer to finish below par during the round was Robert Karlsson, who carded a one-under par 70 and is tied for 13th place. Karlsson, who is playing in his third straight NCAA Regional, dropped two quick shots after he pulled his drive left off the tee on the par-4, No. 13 hole. Following a ruling by the official, Karlsson's ball was deemed out of bounds by an inch and the junior would end up with a double bogey on his fourth hole of the day. The two-time Big South Golfer of the Year found trouble off the tee at No. 17, landing in the greenside bunker and dropped another shot after failing to get up and down. However, a bending 12-foot putt from the back edge of the par-4, No. 18 hole sparked a run where Karlsson birdied four out of five holes to put him below par. The junior closed with five straight pars, including one after sinking a testy eight footer at his closing hole on the elevated green at No. 9. Beside the two holes where Karlsson bogeyed, the junior remained consistent most of the day. He finished by hitting 11-of-14 fairways and 15-of-18 greens in regulation, while tallying 30 total putts. This marked the second time Karlsson has opened up play at an NCAA Regional by finding red figures. Last year, Karlsson posted a four-under par 66 at the NCAA New Haven Regional at The Course at Yale in New Haven, Conn. Liberty's two other countable scores on the day came from sophomore Andrew Colvin and freshman Chase Marinell, who were both playing in their first NCAA Regional event. Colvin is tied for 18th following an even-par round of 71, and Marinell shares 30th place following a one-over par 72. Colvin got off to a fast start with a birdie on his second hole, the par-4, No. 11, and recorded pars on 13 of his last 16 holes. The only times he did not match the score on his card was a three-hole stretch, where he went bogey-birdie-bogey on holes No. 4, 5 and 6. Marinell, this year's Big South Freshman of the Year, overcame a rocky start, as he posted double bogeys on two of his first three holes. The first came after hitting his opening drive on the par-5, No. 10 in the lake off the tee to the left. However, this year's top Big South rookie was able to regroup and find three birdies and 13 pars during the remainder of the round to help secure a third-place finish for Liberty following the opening round of competition. Liberty's final golfer, Max McKay got off to a strong start, birdieing the opening hole. However, the sophomore found trouble late during his opening nine, as he bogeyed the last four holes he played before making the turn. McKay was able to find a second birdie on the par-4, No. 3, but bogeyed the closing No. 9 hole to finish with a three-over 74 and a tie for 49th place. Thanks to the strong opening round, Liberty will be among the final three teams to hit the No. 1 tee box tomorrow morning when second-round play resumes at the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort. The Flames will open second-round play at the NCAA Arizona Regional, along with San Diego State and Washington, at 9:10 a.m. (PST).