With two key players sidelined because of injuries, the UNLV men’s golf team knew it was facing long odds in the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters.
But the Rebels overcame them Sunday.
UNLV held off Stanford and Oklahoma State to win the tournament — its only home event of the year — by two strokes at Southern Highlands Golf Club. The Rebels shot a final-round 6-over-par 294 and posted a three-day total of 22-over 886.
“This was a show of toughness for our team,” coach Dwaine Knight said. “It’s a young group — no seniors — and they found a way to get it done. They went out and grinded, and that’s what it was going to take to win this tournament.”
UNLV was playing without sophomore AJ McInerney (back) and junior Nicholas Maruri (broken ankle), but others picked up the slack. Junior Kurt Kitayama shot a 1-under 71 despite struggling on the closing par-5s. Junior Carl Jonson shot 72 after making the turn at 2 under and didn’t have a truly bad hole. Freshman Taylor Montgomery shot 75, and his 60-foot eagle putt at the par-5 No. 9 potentially saved UNLV a couple of strokes.
It all added up to the Rebels’ seventh victory in the event which began in 2002 and includes several of the country’s best programs. This year, seven teams ranked in Golfweek’s top 10, including No. 1 Alabama, played in the 15-team event.
“We had a lot going on, and for those guys to play their hearts out, it’s very special,” said Knight, whose team led after each of the first two rounds.
Kitayama had a double bogey at the par-5 No. 9 and a bogey at the par-5 18th, but he also made three straight birdies on the back nine.
“I’ve learned how to handle pressure,” he said. “I don’t let a bad shot get me down. I forget about it and move on. I was just trying to keep grinding out there because I knew we didn’t have a big lead.”
At one point on the back nine, Stanford was within one shot. And Oklahoma State gave a putting clinic on the final four holes to make a run. But UNLV held on despite getting no birdies on its final four holes.
Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers shot 1-over 217 to win medalist honors for the second straight year. Kitayama and five others tied for second at 219, and Jonson finished tied for eighth at 220.
“We talked about the pressure coming down the line, and I was interested to see how they’d respond,” Knight said. “This is a great start to the spring for us.”
The effort makes up for the Rebels’ poor showing last month in Hawaii, where they finished eighth at the John Burns Intercollegiate. They will try to keep that momentum beginning Saturday in the National Invitation Tournament in Tucson, Ariz.
“It’s going to be a big week for us,” Knight said. “It’s a course where we want to play well on because we’ll be playing the conference tournament there (in April). But we also want to capitalize on this win and help us move forward.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.