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Oregon looks to continue hot start at Nike event

When Oregon travels to Fort Worth, Texas, for this week’s Nike Golf Collegiate Invitational, it will leave behind cool temperatures and ideal fall weather in Eugene, Ore., for hot and humid conditions in the Lone Star State.

While the Ducks might not be used to the heat this time of the year, they are currently enjoying a hot streak of their own on the golf course, winning twice in as many starts to begin the fall.

Oregon kicked off the season by sharing the team title with UCLA at the Husky Invitational, then was the co-leader with USC after 54 holes of the Itani Homes Collegiate before beating the Trojans in a playoff.

“It’s been a great start for the guys,” said head coach Casey Martin, whose Oregon program has now opened the season with a pair of victories for the second time since 2012.

“They’re really feeling good about themselves. These guys are in new territory, but I don’t think they’re over-confident. … They know that we can’t just sit back or get too far ahead of ourselves.”

Still, there is a lot to like about the Ducks’ start, particularly the strong closing ability they have showcased.

At the Husky, the Ducks rallied late, carding an eagle and five birdies on the last three holes at Gold Mountain Resort to take a late lead – the Bruins needed some final-hole birdies just to tie. Then at Palouse Ridge, Hurly Long’s birdie on the first playoff hole, coming after he hit a wedge to 2 feet, gave Oregon a one-shot victory in the playoff.

Long, who also accounted for a birdie-eagle finish at the Husky, is one of two freshmen who have made immediate impacts for the Ducks. Aaron Wise, the other newcomer, tied for fourth at the Itani Homes Collegiate.

But Martin has gotten contributions from a number of names. Junior Zach Foushee has two top 10s in as many starts while sophomore Thomas Lim tied for third in the opener. Junior Brandon McIver, who competed in this year’s U.S. Open, has also started both of the Ducks’ tournaments.

“We haven’t had that dominant figure, but we’ve had everyone chipping in,” Martin said. “It’s really been a team effort.”

Now, Oregon, ranked 20th in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, will get its toughest challenge yet. The inaugural Nike event, also called The Swoosh, will be played Monday through Tuesday at Colonial Country Club, site of the PGA Tour’s Crowne Plaza Invitational.

Joining the Ducks in the field are No. 6 Vanderbilt, No. 10 Stanford, No. 12 Georgia, No. 18 TCU, No. 25 Oklahoma, No. 29 Texas (preseason No. 1), No. 31 Ohio State, No. 33 USC, No. 42 Washington, No. 92 Duke and No. 108 Arizona.

Facing a tough field on a tough course, Martin and his squad know winning three in a row won’t be easy.

“We’re excited,” Martin said. “This is a great field with some of the best teams in the country. … We’re going to have to play a lot better.”

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