Top teams to test Rebels men's golf

UNLV golf coach Dwaine Knight thinks he has a pretty good team. He'll find out how good in the next three days.

The 11th-ranked Rebels host their one event of the season -- the 54-hole Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters -- and the 15-team field closely resembles the NCAA championships. Five top-10 teams are competing at Southern Highlands: No. 1 Texas, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Southern California, No. 5 UCLA and No. 10 California.

"It's definitely going to test us," said Knight, whose team is paired with Texas and Alabama for today's first round. "But you want to play against the best, and our guys are looking forward to it."

The Rebels had a strong fall season, with three wins in four events, and their successful play has carried over to the spring. UNLV took second at the John Burns Intercollegiate in Hawaii on Feb. 17, then won the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate on Feb. 26 in Palm Desert, Calif., where junior Kevin Penner took medalist honors.

"We're happy with the success we've had so far," Knight said. "We've been getting good play from a lot of people, and that's always nice. It has been the true definition of a team so far.

"But we know the bar is going to be raised this week. It's going to be a true measuring stick for our guys. They know how good the competition is."

Southern Highlands is in pristine condition, and that means fast greens and high rough.

"Southern Highlands tests you in the most intense way," Knight said. "It's real important you put the ball on the right side of the hole."

UNLV has used the home-course advantage to win or share five of the past seven titles. To win this year, the Rebels not only will need Penner and senior Derek Ernst to play well, they'll need sophomore Blake Biddle to continue his recent strong play and get good rounds from freshmen Kurt Kitayama and Carl Jonson.

Ernst, a Ben Hogan Award candidate, tied for ninth at last year's Southern Highlands tournament. But in three years in his home tournament, Ernst has broken par in only one round, when he shot a 2-under 70 in the final round last year.

"Derek's having a terrific senior year," Knight said. "I know he wants to play particularly well this week since it's his last time playing at home. I expect him to have a good week."

Texas is led by Jordan Spieth and Dylan Frittelli, the nation's top two players.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.