Golf plagued by late-round scores; Whitehead shines
While finishing strong is a mantra echoed by any and all mentors in the sports world, the Owls failed to heed this piece of advice last weekend in Baton Rouge, La. Looking for a solid performance at the David Toms Intercollegiate to generate some momentum into their season's winter break, the golf team was unable to build on a solid first round and finished in last place.With their two hardest events of the fall marking the end of the first half of their season and the beginning of their midseason break, the Owls knew their performance in Durham, N.C. at the Rod Myers Intercollegiate and the Toms Intercollegiate would be crucial. Despite senior Michael Whitehead's second-place finish at the Rod Myers Intercollegiate, hosted by Duke University, the team finished in 11th place, making this past week's event, hosted by Louisiana State University, that much more important.
Rice appeared to respond well initially to the pressure, posting a team score of 287 in the first round, good for a tie for fourth. Whitehead, freshman Jeff Wibawa and senior Robert Burrow all posted under-par scores for the Owls in one of their best rounds of the year.
Yet Rice could not keep the momentum going, as poor starts to rounds two and three led to a tumble down the leaderboard. Rice's second-round score of 304 and third-round score of 302 left them in last place among the field's strong 14 teams, which featured the ninth-ranked host LSU Tigers, tenth-ranked Auburn University and eighth-ranked University of Arkansas.
Despite the team's poor finish, Whitehead continued his strong, consistent play for the Owls. Despite a second-round 74 to follow his first-round 69, Whitehead came down the stretch at The Country Club of Louisiana with a chance to win the golf tournament. After eagling the par-five 11th hole of his final round, Whitehead found himself at four-under for the tournament, within striking distance of the leader. However, he was unable to convert on opportunities before finishing with a final-round 69 for a three-round score of 212, leaving him in a tie for eighth.
Whitehead's performance in Baton Rouge gave the Sugar Land native an astonishing 10 rounds in the fall of even-or-under par golf. Additionally, he was named Conference USA golfer of the week for the second consecutive week on Wednesday. Head Coach Drew Scott (Wiess '98) believes Whitehead, who has a stroke average of 71.27, places as one of the country's best golfers.
"If you look at his stroke average, incredible, 10 out of 15 rounds are even- or under-par, amazing," Scott said. "I really hope he has the opportunity to showcase his game against some of the country's best players in the spring."
While Whitehead has led Rice for much of the fall, the Owls failed to receive consistent play from their remaining team members. Sophomore Brock Wilson and junior Erik Mayer were both able to turn in solid scorecards as well, but the team lacked consistent play throughout the fall, according to Whitehead.
"We need to have four guys playing consistently at the same time, something we haven't had all season," Whitehead said. "Playing consistently is what it takes to win and compete, and therefore we need to get more consistent."
With a current ranking of 143, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, the Owls sit well outside of an at-large berth to NCAA Regionals. A strong spring schedule, which concludes with events at the University of Oregon, the University of Mississippi and the University of Houston will give Rice a chance to fight their way back toward contention.
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