May 29, 2013
New Mexico Lobos Men's Golf - at the 2013 NCAA Championships - Alpharetta, Ga.
Top Eight Teams:1- Georgia Tech (274-274--548); 2- California (277-272--549; 3- Texas (279-271--550); 4- Alabama (275-276--551); 5(tie)- Arkansas (286-271--557); 5(tie)- Illinois (276-281--557); 7- Arizona State (270-288--558); 8. Texas A&M (285-275--560). UNM is tied for the 15th spot at 292-274--566.
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
ALPHARETTA, Ga. - The hole is smaller, the two senior leaders are back, but the Lobos still have some climbing to do.
But the good news is that the charge is on.
"I think we can make a run," said Lobo senior James Erkenbeck, who carded a 75 on Tuesday and a 68 in Wednesday's second round. "If we can get ourselves in that final eight, then it'll get really interesting."
The University of New Mexico Lobos improved their second-round team card by 18 shots going from a 292 on Tuesday to a 274 on Wednesday and charged out of a 27th-place tie into a 15th-place tie.
The top eight teams in the NCAA Men's Golf Championships advance to the three-day match phase that will produce the 2013 NCAA champion. UNM is six shots out of the No. 8 hole currently owned by Texas A&M at 285-275--560.
If UNM can duplicate its 274 - and teams above the Lobo falter just a bit - UNM has a chance to push into the match-play format and make a run at a national title. On Wednesday, UNM outshot first-round leader Arizona State by 14 shots, outshot Illinois by seven shots, and outshot Oklahoma by 10 shots.
But the Lobos need some help from their non-friends.
Georgia Tech holds a one-shot lead (274-274--548) over No. 1 ranked California (277-272--549) going into Thursday's final 18 holes. No. 4 Texas is at 550 and No. 2 Alabama is at 551.
ASU shot 270 during Tuesday's first round, which put UNM 22 strokes off the first-day pace. The Lobos trail Georgia Tech by 18 shots. However, the 54-hole stroke portion of the tournament is only for seeding and advancement into the three-day match-play segment that will produce the 2013 champion.
"We can't worry about who's ahead of us or how many strokes we're behind," said Lobo Coach Glen Millican. "We're going to have to play a great round, regardless, and see what happens."
The Lobos' two senior leaders - Erkenbeck and John Catlin - were dynamic in the UNM surge as they each improved by seven shots on their second day on the Capital City Club's Crabapple Course.
Erkenbeck turned a sour 75 into a 68 and Catlin went from a 74 to a 67. The Lobos' Victor Perez also cut three shots off his first-round 72 by scoring a 69 on Wednesday and Gavin Green went from a 73 to a 70.
That's a total improvement of 20 shots by those four golfers, but since the four best cards form a team's total, UNM did not count Erkenbeck's 75 on Tuesday and went with Benjamin Bauch's 73. Bauch was the only Lobo not to improve on the second 18 holes as he carded a 74 on Wednesday.
"I don't think the team played that bad (on Tuesday)," said Erkenbeck. "If I would've just shot what I usually shoot, we'd be in a much better position. I just made some uncharacteristic mistakes yesterday. I hit 15 greens yesterday. I hit 15 greens today. I just avoided making the same mistakes.
"Playing in the morning makes a huge difference, mainly because the greens in the afternoon are rock-hard."
In that regard, the Lobos have caught one huge break heading into Thursday's final round. Though tied with TCU for 15th, UNM will tee off in the morning, at 6:20 a.m. MT, while the Horned Frogs will tee off in the afternoon.
If the course plays easier in the morning, the Lobos are in a better position to make a charge toward the top eight.
Coach Millican said his team's goal on Wednesday was to improve their first-round card of 292 and be in the hunt on Thursday for a top-eight finish. Mission accomplished, but there is still some climbing to do over teams that are playing well.
"I'm very happy with the way we responded today," said Millican. "We needed a good round to keep ourselves in a position to get into the top eight and we did that. The golf course played different this morning than it did (Tuesday) afternoon. There were a lot more scoring opportunities and we took advantage."
Said Catlin: "We have to stay patient. You can't just turn it on and shoot a 64. You have to play your game over five hours and take advantage of the opportunities you have. I think we gave ourselves a chance with the round we had today."
Erkenbeck played solid golf on Wednesday with three birdies and a single bogey to package around 14 pars. The UNM senior had four bogeys and a double bogey on Tuesday on the par 70 course. Catlin had four birdies against a single bogey in carding his 67. Catlin had six bogeys in carding his first-day 74.
"John and James obviously were able to knock down a few more putts," said Millican.
Said Catlin: "I hit the ball better, a lot better, today. I was more consistent, and I made some putts. It helped to play in the morning because the greens were softer. Both days, the scores in the morning have been better."
Perez was consistent on Wednesday with two birdies and a single bogey. Green played even-par golf with three birdies neutralizing three bogeys.
"Obviously it was easier to play in the morning," said Perez. "There was no wind and the greens were softer, so it turned into a putting contest.
"I don't think we approached this tournament any differently than we have other tournaments. We just couldn't get it going (Tuesday). Unfortunately, everybody struggled. You can't expect to have a bad score and be among the top teams in an event like this.
"We knew we had to react today. We rebounded pretty well."
ASU's Jon Rahm shocked the field on Tuesday with a 9-under 61, but returned to human form on Wednesday shooting a 2-over 72 for a two-day card of 133.
Arkansas' Nicolas Echavarria shot a 64 on Wednesday to fall into second place at 134, tied with UCF's Greg Eason. California's Brandon Hagy and Max Homa are at 135 along with Tennessee's Rick Lamb. Catlin and Perez have UNM's best two-day cards of 141, good for a tie for the 43rd spot.
The NCAA individual medalist/champ will be crowned after the traditional stroke-play portion of the tournament. The NCAA team champion will come after match play.
"I don't think we feel like we have to press tomorrow," said Perez. "We have to stay patient, get in position to get birdie looks.
"It's stupid to think if we're down with nine holes left that we have to go at every flag. Nobody knows what will happen. If we keep playing like we did today, we won't have any regrets."