In Tucson, the 14th-ranked University of New Mexico men’s golf team didn’t make the big run it had hoped for Tuesday, but it still found optimism while treading water at the Arizona Intercollegiate.
Sam Saunders, a junior from La Cueva High School, led the Lobos in scoring for the first time, carding a 2-under 69 in the final round for a 1-over 214 at the Sewailo Golf Club to lead UNM to a third-place finish in the 14-team field.
“Sam played really well,” UNM coach Glen Millican said. “Tying for fifth in a course he’d never played before is a good way for him to start off the spring.”
The Lobos closed with a 7-over 291 to finish the tournament at 19-over 871 (287-293-291), 18 strokes behind tournament winner and third-ranked California (281-285-287=853), which finished at 1 over par.
Tournament host Arizona snuck into second place, shooting a 2-over 286 in the final round and finishing at 15-over 867 (290-291-286), four strokes ahead of the Lobos. No. 22 USC, which had a two-stroke lead over Cal entering the final round, struggled to a 24-over 308 Tuesday and fell to fourth place at 19-over 872.
New Mexico State and BYU tied for fifth at 20-over 873.
Saunders, who redshirted last season, had the highest finish of his collegiate career with a tie for fifth place. He picked up the slack for UNM’s top golfer, Gavin Green, who wasn’t his dominant self.
Green, the No. 12 individual player in the country coming into the event, shot a 4-over 75 Tuesday and settled for a 28th-place tie with a 9-over 222 (71-76-75). That the Lobos still finished third was a good sign for the team.
“Obviously, Gavin didn’t play that well; he’s capable of shooting better,” Millican said. “Sometimes good players don’t have good tournaments. So for us to finish third in a tournament that Gavin struggled is a positive result for us.
“But collectively we still made some uncharacteristic mistakes that kept us from finishing better. That’s something we have to work on.
Junior Victor Perez rebounded from a 6-over 77 in the second round to post a 1-under Tuesday and capture a tie for 10th at 4-over 217 (70-77-70).
“He played solid for us this week,” Millican said.
True freshman Andrej Bevins shot an 8-over 79 in the final round for a 54-hole total of 226 (72-75-79) and a tie for 44th place.
Junior Sean Romero tied for 54th after a 6-over 77 to close the event. He rebounded nicely from his first-round 83, which left him tied for second-to-last place. He finished with an 18-over 231.
The other promising result for UNM came from redshirt freshman Mitch Johnson, who played only his second collegiate event and his first event away from the friendly confines of the UNM Championship Course. He sandwiched even-par 71s around a second-round 77 and finished at 6-over 219, good for a tie for 17th place among the 83 players in the field.
He competed as an individual, meaning his score did not count in the Lobos’ team score.
“That’s a great way for him to finish,” Millican said. “The more guys we have playing well, the better team we’ll be by the end of the season.”
Sophomore Joe Abella turned in a solid performance, shooting a 1-over 72 in the final round to finish tied with Green at 9-over 222 (73-77-72).
And Dylan Healey, who played last season at Arizona, tied for 51st with a 17-over 230 (76-80-74).
The Lobos are off until Feb. 19-21 when they travel to Wahiawa, Hawaii, to compete in the John Burns Intercollegiate.