STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION
MARICOPA, AZ – In its final round of a long road trip and its last chance to compete before the Big Sky Conference Championship in two and a half weeks, the Montana golf team came up with something special.
The Grizzlies shot a final-round 295 on Tuesday as the Wyoming Cowgirl Classic came to a close at the Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club in Maricopa, Ariz.
The round is Montana’s best since shooting a 294 at the 2014 Washington State Cougar Cup and the fourth-lowest score in program history.
“I’m pumped. It’s been a long road trip, 13 days, with a lot of golf. To finish with our best round on the last day is awesome,” said coach Kris Nord. “It gives us a pretty big boost of momentum.”
The Grizzlies had four players shoot 75 or better on Tuesday, with Hailey Hoagland coming in with an even-par 72, Teigan Avery a 73 and Kari Opatz and Baylee Barckley 75s.
Hoagland’s round came after shooting 71 and 72 on Monday. She tied for fifth at 1-under, a career-best finish and the second top-10 of her collegiate career.
Her three-round total of 215 was seven strokes better than her previous 54-hole best and ties for second the best three-round score in program history.
“I’ve been hitting the ball well this semester, and that obviously helps,” said Hoagland, “and this is my third year in a row playing this course. It’s really comfortable for me and sets up well for my game.”
Hoagland carded seven birdies in Monday’s opening round, then added three more that afternoon and three on Tuesday. Her 13 for the tournament was the best in the field.
She played the course’s par 4s to even and was 3-under on the par 5s.
“With my distance I’m able to take some shortcuts on some of the longer holes. That leads to some shorter irons coming into the greens, which makes the ball easier to control,” said Hoagland.
“And I had 13 birdies for the tournament, so my flat stick was working really well too.”
But it was a team effort that led to Montana’s 295 on Tuesday. Avery, with a 73, shot her best round of the tournament and best round of the spring. Barckley matched her opening-round score with a 75, and Opatz took 10 strokes off the 85 she carded on Monday afternoon.
Hoagland and Avery avoided anything worse than a bogey on Tuesday. Barckley and Opatz limited their scorecards to one double-bogey each.
Even the team’s two players who were competing as individuals got rolling on Tuesday and carded their best scores of the week. Caylyn Villatora closed with a 76, her three birdies tripling the number she shot in rounds one and two, and Abby Pfeifer finished with an 80.
“One of the keys for us to be in the mix is when it’s not going well, we have to know how to limit the damage,” said Nord. “We did that better today, but we have to continue to improve in that area.
“The best teams putt a little better than we do and get up and down a little better. Those are the two areas we’ll focus on.”
Opatz took a 10 on the par-4 10th in Monday’s second round on her way to an 85 and was 3-over through three holes on Tuesday, but she played the final 15 holes at even, with three birdies balancing out three bogeys.
Her 75 matched her best round of the spring.
“I was really happy for Kari. Even with a tough start to her round today, she bounced back and fought and scored the way she normally scores,” said Nord. “It was good to get her back. We need her confident going into Big Sky.”
Montana finished 15th in the overall standings, coming in behind Sacramento State, Portland State and Northern Arizona of the Big Sky and ahead of Montana State, Southern Utah and Eastern Washington.
Those teams will be joined by five more from the league later this month, when the Big Sky Championship opens at Boulder Creek Golf Club in Boulder City, Nev.
“The players are going to get a couple of days off, then I hope we can get outside to play,” said Nord. “I hope the weather cooperates and we can get some rounds of golf in. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Sacramento State ran away with the team title, shooting rounds of 279, 287 and 288 to defeat runner-up New Mexico State by 22 strokes.
The Hornets’ Sofie Babic, 5-under after shooting rounds of 71, 71 and 69, was three strokes better than a trio of players at 2-under. Hoagland tied with three other golfers at 1-under.
“We’ve been struggling lately to get a fourth score that’s low enough for a really good team score, so for all of us to shoot 75 or better today is great,” said Hoagland.
“And since it’s our last round before conference, it’s a really good note to end on.”