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MEN’S GOLF: Irish collapse, finish last

Ken Fowler | Monday, April 18, 2005

Something went terribly wrong for the Irish this weekend.”I think we’re just a little worn down,” junior golfer Mark Baldwin said. “And our focus has shifted to the Big East Championships next week.”It might have been fatigue. It might have been a lack of focus. Whatever it was, it crippled the team’s game.A solid round of nine-over 297 was essentially meaningless Sunday morning, as the team entered the final 18 holes a stunning 21 shots behind the nearest competition – Texas A&M’s second squad – and 42 strokes behind tournament co-leaders Oklahoma State and New Mexico.The Irish’s final round proved to be Sunday’s fourth best, but it left them in last place by 10 strokes and 49 shots behind champion Oklahoma State.Notre Dame was confident heading into the (Texas A&M) Aggie Invitational, despite the presence of a strong field that included four teams in the Golfweek top 25 – No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 5 New Mexico, No. 17 Texas and No. 21 Michigan State.Notre Dame coach Jim Kubinski thought the team had momentum heading down to College Station for the big tournament. The Irish had finished seventh in the Augusta State Invitational, their last open tournament, beating five top-25 teams – Duke, Southern California, Michigan State, Wake Forest and Clemson – in the process.After that performance, Cole Isban, the Irish’s top golfer, said he was sure he and his teammates could play with “anyone in the country.”But this time, the Irish couldn’t even beat Texas A&M’s “B” team, let alone the likes of Oklahoma State and New Mexico.Problems were evident as soon as the Irish teed off early Saturday morning for the first of two rounds that day.Starting on No. 12 with the shotgun format, Isban – Notre Dame’s best finisher – bogeyed the par-5. Isban followed with another bogey to fall to two-over through two holes. Junior Scott Gustafson didn’t fair any better, bogeying his first three.Baldwin and Eric Deutsch each made par to start the round, but Baldwin bogeyed and Deutsch double-bogeyed their respective second holes. Greg Rodgers, the Irish’s fifth man, triple-bogeyed his first and then struggled his way to a 17-over 89 Saturday morning.Through just two holes, the Irish were 11-over par.The rest of the Saturday’s first round followed likewise. Notre Dame made just seven birdies en route to a 30-over 318.The afternoon round was slightly better to Notre Dame, as it saw the team improve its score by 14 strokes. That score stabilized the Irish’s position relative to the rest of the bottom of the field, but it meant the team was falling farther and farther behind the tournament leaders.At nightfall, Notre Dame needed to regroup and just hope for a good showing Sunday. There was no chance of catching any of the leaders, and barely any of climbing out of last place.”We went out today with the goal of winning today’s 18 hole event,” Baldwin said.”We approached it as a new 18-hole tournament.”With the new day came a team that looked nothing like the one that couldn’t stay competitive the day before.The team put a low number on the board – a 297, a score that was among the day’s best. That low number came largely thanks to avoiding mistakes.The Irish made just 14 birdies, but also stayed away from big numbers. The team only carded two double-bogeys all day.”It was certainly a lot better,” Baldwin said.Cole Isban shot a second consecutive even-par 72 to lead the team. He finished seventeenth individually, with a 54-hole 221 (77-72-72).Scott Gustafson made four birdies en route to a 1-over 73 that included a 1-under 35 for the front nine. He tied for 51 with a 231 (82-76-73).The Irish return to action this weekend, hosting the Big East Championships at the Warren Golf Course Saturday and Sunday.After this week, Notre Dame will need a solid performance or even a win there to qualify for the NCAA Midwest Regionals, which the team is also hosting.”We’re not looking at this tournament as defining our