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Wibawa holds on for one-stroke victory at Lone Star

By Paul Fitzgerald     10/19/11 7:00pm

Going into Tuesday's final round, sophomore Jeff Wibawa sat four shots back of the tournament's leader. With the winds boosting scores during the final round, Wibawa emerged with an even-par 72 and his first career individual tournament victory.

While Wibawa has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his short time at Rice, a consistently great performance has seemed to elude him. The California native appeared on track for a top-10 finish two weeks ago at Squire Creek, beginning the event with rounds of 69 and 72. However, a final round 78 left him with a tie for 14th and a bitter taste in his mouth.

"He had a chance at Louisiana Tech at our last tournament to fall into the top five but couldn't do it," Head Coach Justin Emil said. "This time, he got ahead and learned from the experience."

Wibawa began the three-day event, held at Briggs Ranch in San Antonio, with a two-under-par 70. The sophomore followed up on his solid first round by going lower, firing off a five-under 67 to put himself in fifth place.

Yet his score of seven-under over the first two rounds still left him three back of John Catlin of the University of New Mexico, whose scores of 64 and 70 put him at 10-under-par. Emil, however, knew that Wibawa was poised to make a run for the victory.

"We talked about that [the windy conditions] the night before," Emil said. "Jeff has really worked on his ball flight for the past year and Jeff has prepared well for those windy conditions."

While the 30 miles per hour winds seemed to bother the other golfers near the top of the leaderboard, Wibawa thrived. With three holes to play, he sat at 10-under par, four shots ahead of his closest competitor. Although some coaches may worry about their golfers getting nervous while leading down the stretch, Emil had something else on his mind.

"The only thing that worried me was that the last three holes were going directly into the wind," Emil said. "I could tell his adrenaline was going and that he was enjoying the moment."

Wibawa made bogey on a very difficult par-five before getting up and down to save par on his second-to-last hole. Stepping up to the tee box on his final hole, Wibawa had a three shot lead.

The Baker College student would use up his cushion, hooking his drive before scrambling to get onto the green. The sophomore then two putted for the win, finishing with an even-par 72 that left him seven-under for the event. While the difficult conditions might have bothered his competitors, Wibawa felt like his practice conditions prepared him well.

"We definitely have an advantage over some other schools because we practice at Westwood," Wibawa said. "Going into the final round, I knew the conditions were going to be similar to what they're like sometimes at Westwood, so I knew I would have an opportunity to capitalize on the mistakes of others."

While the team was certainly pleased with Wibawa's play, there remains room for improvement. Rice finished 11th overall in the 15-team field, with senior Erik Mayer finishing in a tie for 50th, sophomore Chris Contreras finishing in 60th, sophomore James Hiester finishing in a tie for 64th and junior Brock Wilson finishing 83rd. Heading into their final event of the fall this week in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Emil expects to see continued improvement by the team.

"We want to finish in the top-five of the field, and with the group of guys we have, we can do that," Emil said. "They did pretty well compared to our previous two events, so if we can keep building on that, it'll be a great feeling."

With expectations raised for the team, Wibawa expects his momentum to continue growing as well.

"It's definitely an advantage to know I already have a victory under my belt, but it won't change how I'll play," Wibawa said. "I'm always out there to try and get a victory, and I'm going to try to do it again next week."

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