Houston grabs early lead in Iowa
VIDEO: Golfweek Conference Challenge (Day 1) - Tyler Merkel
BURLINGTON, Iowa – You may not be able to win a golf tournament after the first round. But you sure can improve your chances of victory with a strong start.
After taking the first-round lead Sunday at the Golfweek Conference Challenge, Houston has the latter part out of the way.
Now comes the more difficult part.
The Cougars, who shot 1-over 289 at Spirit Hollow to take a one-shot lead over Oklahoma and New Mexico, have experienced having an early lead already this season. In its season opener last week at the Northern Intercollegiate, Houston led after the first and second rounds, but struggled in the final round by turning a five-shot lead into a third-place finish, three shots back.
“It’s not so much focusing on what we’ve done in the past, it’s more or less continuing to give ourselves the opportunity to win,” Houston coach Jonathan Dismuke said. “Obviously, we want to learn from last week, but it’s ultimately about putting yourself in the right situation, and that’s what we have to do tomorrow; go out and play another good round to give ourselves a chance to be around the lead on Tuesday.”
While the Cougars started the tournament strong, they struggled to get going early Sunday. Part of that had to do with tough weather conditions – inclement weather delayed play for 30 minutes shortly after the first tee time of the day, and overcast, cool and windy conditions continued to affect play throughout the day.
“It’s tough out there,” Dismuke said. “You have a very demanding golf course and when you add some elements to it, it’s really difficult to make pars.”
Four bogeys and three double bogeys on the opening five holes put Houston in an early hole, but the Cougars fought back nicely. Blair Hamilton and Wesley McClain combined to shoot 5 under with just one bogey on the back nine, and finished with an even-par 72 and 1-over 73, respectively.
Houston also counted a 73 from Curtis Reed and a 71 from Roman Robledo, who is one of eight players tied for third at 1 under. New Mexico’s Victor Perez is second at 2 under, a shot back of first-round leader Tyler Merkel of Ball State.
“We got off to a little bit of a tough start; the weather was tough this morning and we made a few bogeys early,” Dismuke said. “But we hung in there, we played well on the back side, which I think statistically is probably the tougher side, and that allowed us to climb our way into the lead.”
Oklahoma didn’t fare as well on the finishing holes Sunday. The Sooners led for much of the day before all five starters combined to shoot 9 over on Nos. 15-18. But despite the poor finish, Oklahoma is still in a good position just one shot back.
It was a consistent performance from every player, too, as the Sooners counted two of their three 73s and got 72 from both Michael Schoolcraft and Charlie Saxon.
“Everybody is not very happy right now because we didn’t finish very good, but overall I like what I saw out of the guys today. . . . I liked the consistency,” Oklahoma coach Ryan Hybl said. “I just want our guys to have a good attitude tonight, realize what we did today, take some good things from it, learn from our mistakes and go at it again tomorrow, and hopefully we’ll be in a good spot heading into the final day.”
After the first round Sunday at Spirit Hollow, no team or player has won the tournament – far from it. Eight teams are within nine shots of the lead and the top 36 individuals are within five shots of each other.
“There’s just a lot of golf left,” Merkel said. “You just never know what’s coming up (in) the next 36 (holes).”