NINETY SIX — It’s the first time Columbia native Nicholas Poole has competed in the Festival of Flowers amateur golf tournament, and he takes a a share of the lead into today’s final round of the men’s championship.

Poole, a rising sophomore at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, shot a 2-under 70 Saturday to tie Kyle Bearden for first place in the 36-hole tournament, which is at The Patriot at Grand Harbor.

“It’s my first time playing in this tournament, and it’s a good golf course,” Poole said. “Good setup. The greens are in decent shape, and it’s just fun to play up here in (the Greenwood area). I kind of scrapped around, hit some good shots. Overall, it was a pretty productive day. Hopefully I can come out tomorrow and shoot another good round.”

Poole said he wants to do a better job of sinking his putts to protect his lead and try to come out with a victory.

“I’m hitting it good,” he said. “I just need to keep my mind set on (those puts), and keep on hitting it how I’m hitting it and try to play another decent round of golf. Just gotta make a few more puts.”

Other local players in the tournament include Lander senior Jon Parker and North Greenville junior Kobie Morton. Parker and Morton went to Greenwood High together and played in the same group together on Saturday.

“Being able to play in this tournament is awesome,” Morton said. It’s always fun, and because they’re able to put some fun groupings together, it was nice to be able to play with Jon, and a couple other teammates I used to play high school golf with, so it was fun today. All I did was have fun.”

Morton finished with a 4-over 76 after the first round. He said he’s swinging his driver well, but he’s looking to find more greens on Sunday in order to finish with a lower score.

“With my 76 today, I’m probably going to have to shoot a 4- or 5-under par. These guys are good, I know that for sure,” Morton said with a laugh. “I see 70 is the lowest score in, but I could see some better scores coming in tomorrow.”

Parker has played on this course multiple times in the past. The Bearcats have used The Patriot for qualifiers the last few years, so he has a familiarity with it.

Parker, who won the tournament in 2017, turned in a 1-over 73. He said he was frustrated after his round because he felt like he left some puts on the table.

Still, Parker finds himself in the hunt for another championship, as he sits just three strokes back of the lead heading into the final round.

“Couldn’t really get it going with the putter, but it wasn’t too bad of a first round,” Parker said. “Put in a decent effort with the 1-over. Could’ve been worse, but it could’ve been a lot better.”

Parker said he’s also thrilled that he’s had the chance to play in this tournament over the last few years and keep up with his friends from the area.

“It’s really cool, I enjoy it a lot,” he said. “Great golf course, great golf tournament, and a great field to play against. We always have a great course here.”

The tournament will continue at 8 a.m. today.

Contact sports writer Wesley Dotson at 864-943-2530.