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Rebel golfers struggle at Southern Highlands

The way the scores were coming in, someone needed to double-check that Southern Highlands Golf Club was indeed UNLV’s home course.

Fortunately, Nicholas Maruri was there to remind everyone the Rebels weren’t strangers on their own turf. The senior from Mexico City shot a 1-under-par 71 in the opening round of the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters on Monday in what was his first tournament action of the spring.

But his teammates struggled and Maruri’s was the only score of UNLV’s in the red that counted toward its total of even par 288 after the first round. The Rebels are tied for seventh place with California and Alabama, 12 shots behind first-round leader Texas (276). Oklahoma State is in second place at 8-under 280.

“I had been playing well in the (team) qualifying the past few weeks so my game was coming around,” Maruri said. “I felt I was ready and being a senior, I knew what to expect. And knowing this course, you can be successful if you limit your mistakes.”

Maruri’s 71 was actually the second-best round recorded by a UNLV player Monday. Sophomore Redford Bobbitt fired a 7-under 65. But since Bobbitt was playing as an individual, his score did not count toward UNLV’s team total. Freshman Ben Davis, a Shadow Ridge High School graduate who also was playing as an individual, also finished with a 71.

“Too bad, we could have used it,” Rebels coach Dwaine Knight said of Bobbitt’s 65, which has him tied with Oklahoma’s Charlie Saxon among individuals going into today’s second round.

But Knight was happy for Maruri, whose career has been plagued by physical setbacks from injuries off the course. He broke his wrist a couple of years ago while snowboarding then broke his ankle a year ago in a car accident.

“It’s great to see him play well,” Knight said. “Nico’s been through so much. But he earned his spot in the lineup and he did a great job.”

Maruri’s round did not get off to a great start as he bogeyed his first hole. But he quickly put it behind him, settled down and made the turn at 1-under.

“I was really nervous,” he said. “But after the first hole, I told myself to just relax and go have fun. I think being a senior helped me there because I’d been through it before.”

Maruri got to 2-under after making a birdie at the par-4 10th. But he gave a shot back at the par-4 11th.

“The course was a little tougher than usual,” he said. “The rough was a little longer and the greens were faster. I just tried to manage my game and not try to force things.”

His teammates weren’t as fortunate. Freshman John Oda particularly had a rough opening round, finishing with a 5-over 77. Oda had been playing exceptionally well coming into the Southern Highlands tournament but he had a wild front nine, including a bogey followed a double bogey at the par-4 No. 5, then consecutive birdies followed by another bogey at No. 8.

“It could have been a little uncomfortable for him,” said Knight of Oda, who played in the top spot for UNLV and was paired with a couple of All-Americans in Alabama’s Robby Shelton and Illinois’ Thomas Detry. “But that’s how you learn.”

Senior Kurt Kitayama and sophomore Taylor Montgomery both finished at even par 72 and senior Carl Jonson had a 1-over 73. But Monday was a day to put up a low number with the benign conditions at Southern Highlands and Knight acknowledged as much.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’ve got to get better and I’m surprised we didn’t play better.”

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

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