Host Missouri had a strong opening round Thursday in a NCAA men’s golf regional at The Club at Old Hawthorne, which was interrupted more than 45 minutes by an early-afternoon thunderstorm.
Of course, it was worth the wait for the Tigers, who sit in second place behind only top-seeded Oklahoma State after the Cowboys shot a blistering 16-under-par 272 and tied the Old Hawthorne college tournament record for lowest team round.
Missouri, which established the course record in 2013, was led by seniors Hunter Kraus and Emilio Cuartero along with junior Ryan Zech, a Kearney graduate.
“As the eighth seed, when you’re sitting in second place after a solid round, obviously you’re happy,” Tigers coach Mark Leroux said. “It got tough out there. If you were out here in Columbia, you felt the weather change after that rain.”
It didn’t affect Missouri, though, which positioned itself well for a top-five finish and a berth to the NCAA championship with a 7-under 281.
Kraus’ rollercoaster round ultimately featured more ups than downs. He finished with seven birdies and three bogies and is tied for third in the individual standings with Virginia’s David Pastore at 4-under 68.
Zech was a bit more steady. He had three birdies on the front nine and seven pars, with a birdie and a bogey, on the back nine to finish at 3-under, which is tied with Virginia’s Denny McCarthy for fifth overall.
Meanwhile, Cuartero, who had four birdies and a bogey, sits in a three-way tie for seventh at 2-under with a pair of Cowboys, freshman Wyndham Clark and senior Ian Davis.
“I expected them to play like that, and I don’t think that’s their best yet,” Leroux said. “We have five pretty good golfers. We have five kids that have shot in the 60s in tournaments this year. You combine that with playing on your home track, your confidence is pretty high and so is your ability to post a good score.”
Led by sophomore Jordan Niebrugge and senior Talor Gooch, Oklahoma State, which is ranked No. 4 in the nation by the Golf Coaches Association of America, leads the 54-hole tourney by 9 strokes.
Niebrugge took the first-day lead with a 7-under 65. He played bogey-free golf with four birdies on the front nine and three on the back nine.
He owns a two-shot lead on Gooch, who shook off a bogey on the third hole en route to a 5-under 67. He birdied six of the last 10 holes, including four in a row beginning with the 13th hole.
Missouri freshman Euan Walker shot a 2-over 74, rounding out the team’s scorers, while sophomore Wilson Sundvold shot 79.
Kansas State senior Daniel Wood salvaged a tough opening round with a birdie on the 18th hole. Wood, who had six bogies and 11 pairs until the final hole, finished at 5-over.
Wood trails the top individual, Central Arkansas junior Pep Angles, by three shots.
The top five teams and the low individual from the regional, which continues Friday and Saturday, advance to the NCAA championship. Play begins May 23 at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
Missouri leads Arizona State and Iowa, who are tied for sixth, by 10 shots entering the second round Friday.
“One good round solidifies our place in the finals,” Leroux said. “That’s what we’re going to focus on rather than trying not to slip back (to the pack). We’re focused on trying to have our best round (Friday).”