Someone forgot to tell the UNLV men’s golf team that it was supposed to play “Follow the leader.”
With senior Kevin Penner showing the way with a 1-under-par 69 in Tuesday’s first round of the NCAA Championship in Milton, Ga., the rest of the team was expected to follow suit. At least that was the plan.
But a troublesome back nine for most of the Rebels led to a team score of 6-over 286, leaving UNLV in a five-way tie for 14th entering today’s second round at the Capital City Club outside Atlanta.
Arizona State, with freshman Jon Rahm shooting 9-under 61, leads with a 10-under 270, four strokes ahead of second-place Georgia Tech.
“We let a great opportunity get away from us,” UNLV coach Dwaine Knight said. “The course was there for the taking. It didn’t play as tough as expected, and we didn’t take advantage.”
Penner, named to the All-West Region team Tuesday for the second consecutive year, had birdies at the par-3 15th and the par-4 18th and bogeyed the par-4 16th after making the turn at par 35. His 69 left him tied for 20th.
Sophomore Kurt Kitayama came closest to matching Penner, finishing with a 71 after making bogey at No. 17. Kitayama had three birdies and four bogeys on Capital City’s Crabapple Course.
“Kevin was very solid tee to green,” Knight said. “He gave us what we were looking for, and that birdie at 18 was big. And Kitty did a great job keeping it together.”
The back nine was a nightmare for the other Rebels. Sophomore Carl Jonson made the turn at par, only to bogey three of the last five holes and finish at 73. Freshman AJ McInerney was even through 11 holes but made bogeys at Nos. 12, 14 and 18 to also finish at 73. UNLV had nine bogeys to five birdies in its final nine holes.
Junior Nicholas Maruri struggled to a 76 after four bogeys on his front nine. His score did not count against the team total.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t hold it together on the back nine,” Knight said. “We had been playing pretty well through the turn.”
UNLV will play with Oklahoma and Kent State again today. After 54 holes of stroke play, the top eight in the 30-team field will advance to three days of match play beginning Friday to determine the national champion.
“We’ve put ourselves in a bit of a hole,” Knight said. “We’re going to have to play better the next two days. But right now, all we’re looking for is one good, solid round.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.