May 3, 2013 (updated 9:34 p.m.)
By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
TUCSON -- If the University of New Mexico is Victor Perez's home away from home, then Tucson just might be his home away from his home away from home.
The University of New Mexico sophomore golfer shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 Friday to grab the individual lead and pace the sixth-ranked Lobos to the team lead after the first round of the Mountain West Championship.
Perez, a native of Semeac, France, has a one-stroke lead over UNLV's Kevin Penner. Fellow Lobo sophomore Gavin Green is third at 1-under-par 70. No one else in the 45-player field shot below par at the Omni Tucson National Golf Course.
"He had a great round, especially with the wind kicking up the way it did," coach Glen Millican said. "Anything around par was a good score today, and Victor definitely put us in good shape today."
Green matched Perez's five birdies, but also had a double-bogey and two bogeys - including one on No. 18.
"Gavin does a great job of putting bad holes behind him," Millican said. "He actually had a bogey on No. 6 and then a double-bogey on No. 7. Then he turned it around and played the rest of the round at 3 under. He stayed patient, which was important for us."
The Lobo pups guided UNM to a first-round, 2-under-par 282 and a five-shot lead over the No. 35 Rebels (as ranked by Golfweek.com), which finished at 3-over 287. New Mexico is seeking its first Mountain West crown since 2006, the last of four consecutive league titles.
Two-time defending MW champion San Diego State is third at 4-over 288, as the top three teams separated themselves from the rest of the conference pack. Fourth place Colorado State shot a 12-over 296.
Perez has played in five tournaments here during his relatively young Lobo career, and he's improved in each consecutive event. He shot a 7-over 220 in the 2012 Arizona Intercollegiate at the neighboring Arizona National in his first collegiate event in Tucson. He followed that with a 2-over 215 on the Tucson National course during the 2012 MW Championship.
The Lobos then went to the Golf Course at Vistoso for this year's Arizona Intercollegiate in January, and Perez turned in a 5-under 208. UNM returned to Omni Tucson National in March for the Don Puckette National Invitational Tournament, and Perez shot a 6-under 210. Par was 72 for that event but is 71 for the MW tourney.
The Lobos came away with the NIT team title with a season-best 20-under par 844.
"Obviously, the more you play a golf course, the more familiar you become with it," Millican said. "Today was Victor's sevnth competitve round on this course and 11th overall. He definitely knows his way around it."
Perez's low round helped the Lobos grab the first-round lead for the third straight event. They also held leads at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational in March and the Morris Williams Intercollegiate in April. In fact, UNM led after two rounds in each event (it was tied with two teams at the Morris Williams) but faded in the third round.
"We've been in this position lots of times this season," Millican said. "They know how to stay in the moment, and just think about the next shot. When you start thinking about more than that, that's when you run into trouble. The best thing we can do is keep it simple, in terms of our thought process.
Senior James Erkenbeck missed out on a tie for fourth with a bogey on the 18th hole and finished tied for ninth with a 1-over 72. Double bogeys hurt both senior John Catlin (3-over 74) and senior Benjamin Bauch (4-over 75), who are tied for 18th and 21st, respectively.
"John and James also did a good job of battling through after double-bogeys," Millican said. "We're going to need to keep that kind of focus if we want to continue to stay in the hunt to win."
Second-round action resumes today, with the Lobos teeing off as part of the last three groups at 9:40 a.m., Mountain Time. Live scoring is available at Golfstat.com.