Long, Missouri roll at UALR tournament

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - It’s been said that some habits are hard to break. That could be a positive thing if it’s a good habit.

Missouri coach Mark Leroux and his standout sophomore Jace Long certainly hope it’s true as both are enjoying a very good habit: winning.

With Long leading the way, the Tigers rolled to an eight-shot victory Tuesday in the 17th annual University of Arkansas-Little Rock First Tee Classic at Chenal Country Club.

Under overcast and at times rainy skies and with temperatures in the low 50s, Missouri shot a closing round 8-over 296 - the only sub-300 team round of the day - to finish at 18-over 882. Louisville, Southern Mississippi and host UALR tied for second at 890, with Central Arkansas following at 896 and Southeastern Louisiana at 899 in the 17-team field.

It was the Tigers’ third win in as many starts this spring season after victories at the Snowman and Jack Rabbit.

For Long, it was two in a row after his win at the Jack Rabbit. With a closing even-par 72 coming after rounds of 71-67, the Dixon, Mo., native finished at 6-under 210, four strokes better than Louisville junior Justin Dorward, who finished with a 70. UALR’s Keith Becker Jr. took third at 1-over 217.

“We may not be ready to take on the world just yet, but I feel we are going in the right direction,” Leroux said. “This team is really coming along. We haven’t had the greatest weather lately and haven’t been able to get out and play much, so to start out with three wins is fantastic.

“There were some tough conditions out there these past two days, but they’re the kind of conditions we’ve been used to so far this spring,” Leroux said.

Missouri entered the final round tied with Southern Miss at the top of the leaderboard at 586, two shots better than Louisville and three lower than UALR.

Leroux’s message to his team before the final round: “I just told them we’ve been in this position before and to go out there and believe. . . .believe in themselves, believe in their team.”

The Tigers did just that - Long, in particular.

“I had a lot of confidence coming into this tournament, and winning again just adds to it,” he said. “I just need to keep it going, as does everyone else on the team.

“It was a challenge out there today,” Long said of the final round. “It was raining early and was cold all day. This is a tough golf course no matter what, and it was even tougher with some of the pin placements.

“I was a bit erratic off the tee, but was able to hit the shots I needed and to make some birdies,” Long said. “Actually, all three rounds, I did some pretty good scrambling.”

His coach says Long’s scrambling ability is among his many strong points.

“He can get up and down from a trash can,” Leroux said with a laugh. “He comes up with some incredible shots. But the thing is, he also has tons of talent. This year he is really maturing, not only as a golfer but as a person.”

And this good winning habit just might continue as next up for Long and the Tigers is their own event, the Mizzou Intercollegiate, on April 4-5 at The Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Mo.

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