Missed opportunity holds Men's Golf down in season opener
By SCOTT WARD
TUCSON, Ariz. -- There was a window Saturday where the elements were perfect for Northern Colorado to move up the team leader board at the 2012 National Invitational Tournament at Omni Tucson National Golf Course.
For a little more than an hour, the Bears, who were tied for seventh following Friday's first two rounds, got to play in near-perfect conditions, with little more than a slight breeze blowing.
That was the time for a move.
The wind picked up after that, though—gusting to more than 30 miles-per-hour at times—and any chance coach Chuck Scheinost's squad had of finishing in the top half of the field blew right away with it.
The Bears completed four holes as a team before the gusts and were four strokes over par for the day. They were 12 over once the wind joined the party and finished with a 304 team score on the final 18 holes and an 898 team s'core for the Invitational (+34), which was good for eighth place.
Sophomore Ben Krueger shot a 5-over 77 Saturday to lead Northern Colorado on the overall individual leader board. He finished tied for 26th in the 76-player field with a three-day total of 223 (+7).
Newcomer Steve Connell was the Bears' low player Saturday, shooting a 2-over 74. He finished in a tie for 41st with a 10-over 226. Junior Kevin Collignon posted a 4-over 76 Saturday and finished with a three-round score of 225 (+11) and in a tie for 35th.
San Diego State won the team title with 859 (-5) strokes, and UNLV was a shot behind at 860 (-4). SMU rounded out the top three with a final of 863 (-1).
In the individual race, San Diego State's J.J. Spaun claimed medalist honors after carding a final round of 68 for an Invitational total of 201 (-15).
"We got off to a poor start this morning," Scheinost said. "We didn't play well when the wind was down, which kind of hurt us. It kind of put us behind to start. But we battled back late in the round and finished pretty strong, and I'm really proud of that.
"We didn't especially play bad golf. We just continued to post some big numbers, which brings the whole round down. That's what we'll need to work on and eliminate going forward."
Scheinost said he thought a bright spot on the day was the play of Connell, a freshman who transferred in from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College. Considering it was Connell's first collegiate event, it would be hard to argue.
He bookended 2-over 74s around a 78 in Friday's second round and would have fared better overall if not for bogeys Saturday on holes 13 and 17.
"He played well early but then had a lapse at the end," Scheinost said. "Still, it was a great tournament for him—his first as a Bear. I'm pretty proud and excited for him and what he's going to do for this program."
The Bears will now take with them confidence into their next event, the Towson Invitational in Grasonville, Md., which will run from March 30 to April 1.
They entered Saturday's final round wanting to catch host Arizona, who were just seven strokes better than UNC after 36 holes, but their slow start torpedoed the opportunity. The Wildcats shot a 295 Saturday and finished in sixth.
Northern Colorado did beat some teams, though. And they beat some teams that jump out to the common fan (Wyoming, Hawai'i) and some who jump out to Scheinost, particularly.
"Northern Iowa and Army beat us earlier in the year, and we took care of them pretty good in this event, which is good," he said. "We're definitely closing the gap on some of the bigger teams, and the guys are gaining some confidence, and we're continuing to progress.
"I'm happy with our performance to start out. We're definitely closing the gap and making progress with a young squad, so I'm definitely happy about that."