Golf falters late after solid start
Looking to close the second round with a strong finish, the Owls instead squandered their place in the top-half of the leaderboard, falling to a 14th place finished at the UTSA/Oak Hills Invitational in San Antonio. Following a layoff from competition that neared four months, Rice stepped up to the tee on Monday morning and put forth a solid round. Led by senior Michael Whitehead, the team's strongest performer throughout the fall, the Owls shot a cumulative 293. The round left them in a tie for eighth in the 17- team field. Freshman Chris Contreras and sophomore Brock Wilson shot matching 73s to head the Owls' strong effort. Contreras felt that the course was ripe for scoring in the first round.
"The playing conditions in the first round were perfect, and I felt we were able to take advantage," Contreras said. "The course played pretty soft, and we're excited to be out there, and those kind of combined to lead to some good scores."
Rice continued their strong play throughout the second round before closing poorly. Remaining within a few shots of moving into fifth place for much of the round, the last three holes would prove disastrous. A number of bogeys, double bogeys, triple bogeys and a quintuple bogey dropped the Owls down the leaderboard to 14th place. Whitehead once again lead the team with a 73, while senior Robert Burrow posted a 76. Contreras, Wilson and freshman Jeff Wibawa all shot 77. Head coach Drew Scott (Wiess '98), saw some potential from his team in the second round, but a number of factors led to a poor overall score.
"We finished on a really tough stretch of holes," Coach Scott said. "The 36-hole day is a long one, and the guys didn't hang in there and compete as well as they're capable of."
Despite their strong second round, the Owls looked to improve their place on the leaderboard, remaining within striking distance of a solid finish. Yet a poor final round left them in 14th place with a three-round score of 899. Whitehead finished in 29th place, while Wibawa ended up in a tie for 54th.
Texas Tech University's Nils Floren won the event by a single stroke, while his team ran away with the team title. The Red Raiders were able to finish 12 strokes ahead of their nearest competitor, the University of Oklahoma.
Rice will look to bounce back quickly, as they are right back out on the course on Monday morning to begin opening-round play of the Rice Intercollegiate Invitational. In its 11th year, the event will be held at Westwood Golf Club, located off Southwest Freeway near the Sam Houston Tollway. Contreras believes that the Owls should have a significant advantage playing at Westwood.
"I've only been here for six months, but I could already tell you that Westwood is a course that's difficult to jump on and score well on," Contreras said. "It's probably our best opportunity to win an event all season, so we want to send the seniors off right during their last home event."
With six tournaments completed, the Owls face an uphill battle to qualify for postseason play. Yet there are some positives to take away, namely the solid first round play, as well as good starts to rounds two and three. This coming week should be a great barometer for Rice's play the rest of the year. "We've struggled at times, and though we've had Whitehead and Wibawa put together good individual finishes, we're still trying to establish an identity," Coach Scott said. "This week will be a telltale sign of who's going to step up and contribute for us the rest of the season.
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