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Sophomore Jeff Wibawa places in 13th

By Paul Fitzgerald     3/14/12 7:00pm

Looking to gather some momentum heading into their home stretch, the Rice golf team instead faltered at the Argent Financial Classic, finishing in last place.

Coming off a disappointing 14th-place finish at their home event, the Rice Intercollegiate, the Owls headed to Choudrant, La. for the tournament, hosted by Louisiana Tech University. Rice had already traveled to Choudrant in the fall portion of their season, finishing in 12th place at the Squire Creek Invitational.

The Owls were unable to use their past experience to start the tournament strong, posting a team score of 310 that left them in last place after Sunday's first round. Sophomore Jeff Wibawa led Rice, as he has for much of the year, by posting an even-par 72.

Already down on the leaderboard, the Owls looked to begin a comeback in the second round. Wibawa continued to score well, carding a one-over 73, and he was matched by freshman Tommy Economu. However, their team score of 300 was not enough to move them out of last place.

The event's third round saw Wibawa post a one-under 71, leaving the Baker College member in a tie for 13th. Economu's 75 left him in a tie for 35th, while the remaining Owls, senior Erik Mayer, freshman Joe Beck and junior Brock Wilson finished in ties for 47th, 49th and 51st, respectively.

As has been the case all season long, the majority of Rice's lineup was comprised of underclassmen. With only two upperclassmen on the roster, Head Coach Justin Emil sees this year as an important developmental year.

"We're a real young team, so it's been a real rebuilding year for us," Emil said. "We've had to teach them how to do certain things, and there's a real learning curve, especially for collegiate golf."

While the team has certainly struggled as they've gotten accustomed to the grind of collegiate golf, Wibawa's play has continued to impress. The Encino, Calif. native has begun the spring with back-to-back top-20 finishes, and even though he concedes he's not playing his best golf, he feels as if anything is possible.

"My ballstriking was good, which allowed me to have chances for birdies and prevented big numbers, but my putter wasn't helping me enough to get the W," Wibawa said. "I think I'm capable of going to the rest of our events and contending for each title."

The next event at which Wibawa hopes to contend is the team's next tournament, the Border Olympics. Held in Laredo, Texas, the Border Olympics have been kind to Rice golf in the past. Michael Whitehead (Will Rice '11) used a final-round 62 at last year's event to take the individual title.

While Wibawa may have his eye on a title, the team's struggles this year have Emil focusing on the improvement of his team.

There's been a unique opportunity on this team for the young guys to get experience, and I've been very encouraged," Emil said. "We're just going to go in there, develop a game plan, and stick to it. Hopefully at the end it will add up to a better performance."

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