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Men’s Golf: Golfers earn top finishes on break

Michael Blasco | Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Irish covered 4,000 miles in four days, picking up two top-five finishes in the process. Hardly what you’d call a break.

In what was possibly its finest set of performances of the season, Notre Dame scratched out a second-place finish at the Palmas del Mar Intercollegiate in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Wednesday, before taking fifth place at the Border Olympics in Laredo, Texas, over the weekend. In Puerto Rico, junior Doug Fortner earned his fourth career top-five finish after carding a one-under 215 to take a share of fourth place.

Irish head coach Jim Kubinski sees the results as a confirmation of his maturing team’s potential.

“Our guys are realizing they have the physical skills to compete with any team in the country,” Kubinski said. “They’re a talented and young group. It’s one thing to walk around saying you can compete with the best. Our guys are starting to believe it now.”

The team opened its spring break tour with a trip to the Palmas del Mar Golf Club in Humacao. Shooting an uneven 299 in the opening round at the par 72, 6,931-yard Flamboyan Course, Notre Dame rallied behind Fortner’s second-round 68 that placed the squad in third at the end of two rounds. Fortner’s rocky final-round 76 was offset by sophomore Connor Alan-Lee’s scintillating, career-best 68, vaulting Alan-Lee to 11th and the team into second. The Irish finished with a 12-over par 876 (299-284-293) to claim runner-up honors, six shots behind tournament champion Virginia Commonwealth in the ten-team field.

Fortner finished tied for fourth with a one-under par 215 (71-68-76), and Alan-Lee’s four-over 220 placed him 11th (77-75-68). Sophomore Jeff Chen and freshman Chris Walker each shot final-round 75s to end up sharing 15th at six-over par. Chen battled a 103-degree fever to earn his best finish of the season. Freshman Max Scodro took his fourth top-30 finish in five career events, finishing in 22nd with a 224, while sophomore Dustin Zhang rebounded from an opening-round 80 to end with a 226 in 26th place.

After Wednesday’s finish, the Irish traveled 4,000 miles between three flights to get to the Laredo Country Club (par 72, 7,241-yards) for Thursday’s practice round. Despite jet lag and fatigue, Notre Dame opened the tournament with scores of 303 and 289, good enough for 5th for Friday’s 36-hole start.

“I think they played more on adrenaline that first day,” Kubinski said. “After all the travel and the 11 hours out on the course, they turned in a 289. Pretty impressive. They’re getting better. They’re believing.”

A final round 299 gave the Irish a 27-over-par 891 on the tournament, putting the team in fifth place, fourteen strokes behind champion Baylor in the field of sixteen.

Chen followed his Palmas del Mar performance with an 11th-place finish after carding a 5-over 221 (77-72-72) for the weekend. Kubinski praised Chen’s consistency and maturity after his solid outings last week.

“[Jeff] has been the steadiest player on our team,” Kubinski said. “He took advantage of his opportunities early on, and it was like a light bulb turning on. You could just see his confidence grow almost immediately.”

Fortner (75-72-77) and Zhang (76-73-75) each turned in eight-over par 224s to fall to 26th place in the field of 88. Scodro tied for 42nd place at 12-over par 228 (75-78-75), while Alan-Lee finished in 64th with a 18-over par 234 (81-72-81). Walker, who competed as an individual participant for the Border Olympic, ended his weekend tied for 77th at 21-over par (237, 76-83-78).

Notre Dame returns to the links this weekend at the Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational in Statesboro, Georgia. The tournament will be held March 20-22 at the Forest Heights Country Club.