HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. – Navigating the most menacing course they have played all season, the Linfield Wildcats sputtered to a tie for 35th place after the first day of competition at the NCAA Division III Championships on the par-72, 6,926-yard El Campeon course Tuesday at the Mission Inn Resort and Club.
Linfield, champion and lone representative of the Northwest Conference, shot an 18-hole score of 330.
Oglethorpe University, the host school, jumped to a quick first-round lead. The Stormy Petrels fired a 3-under-par 285 on the 6,895-yard par-72 Las Colinas Course, four strokes ahead of challenger Claremont-Mudd-Scrips and five in front of Christopher Newport’s 290. The top eight team scores turned in on Tuesday came from the more forgiving Las Colinas course with the El Campeon course playing significantly more difficult.
Wildcats standout Alex Fitch sank up two birdies on the No. 8 and 10 holes, but found the rest of the going difficult up and down the remainder of El Campeon, as he worked to overcome five bogeys and one double bogey.
He finished with a 6-over-par 78 and remains tied for 83rd place.
“All in all, it wasn’t a bad round,” said Fitch. “It was a tough track today. Any missed shot resulted in either a penalty or needing to work your way back on to the fairway. There were a lot of trees to contend with and water to work around. It was really tight and tough to manuver.”
Searing temperatures surpassing the 90-degree mark was another variable the Wildcats were unaccustomed too.
Taylor Klopp (Jr., Eugene, Ore.) carded an 11-over 83 to tie for 164 place, A.J. Taylor (Sr., Kirkland, Wash.) was one stroke back at 84, and Connor Magnuson shot an 85. Tommy Schmitz was five shots behind the Wildcat cluster at 90.
Klopp, a freshman making his national tournament debut, was even par after three holes, before a double bogey on the No. 4 hole snowballed, resulting in bogeys on four of the next five holes. Klopp did rebound to record even-par scores on six of the last nine holes, but another double bogey on No. 16 helped mushroom his score to 83.
Taylor recorded three birdies on the day, the most by any Wildcat, but also took double bogeys on two of the first three holes to dig an early hole.
Magnuson, another first-timer, also got off to a rough start. He carded bogeys on four of the first five holes. And a 4-over-par outcome on No. 15 pushed his score to 85.
Schmitz experienced the most frustrating afternoon of the five Wildcats, taking four double bogeys, including a 6-over-par score on the tricky No. 15 hole.
All the rough patches the Wildcats encountered put a significant crimp in their hopes of surviving the cut after the Wednesday’s second round.
Fitch remains in contention to continue play beyond Wednesday as an individual, though he’ll have to be his very best on the Las Colinas course.
“We can go out and play really relaxed now and look forward to a big bounce back,” he said. “Competing at the national championships is great experience for all our guys. We want to go out now and earn some respect for the Northwest Conference.”
Oglethorpe’s Anthony Maccaglia and Mudd-Scripps’ Brad Shigezawa are tied for the first-round lead after posting matching 68s on Las Colinas. Maccaglia closed his round with consecutive birdies to match Shigezawa, whose afternoon featured seven birdies.
‘CAT SCRATCH: Fitch was named Tuesday as a Division III PING All-Region honoree as announced by the Golf Coaches Association of America. Players across six regions - Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South, Great Lakes, Central and West - earned all-region honors for 2012. . . the last individual to make the cut as an individual was Tyler Nelson in 2009.
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