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Strong Back Nine Helps Eagles Make History and the Cut

the men's golf team at camp lejeune

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - On Saturday, in the second round of the Marine Corps Intercollegiate, the Bridgewater men's golf team played the Scarlet course at Camp Lejeune, the shortest and most scoring-friendly course they experience every year. It took the Eagles a little while to build momentum, but after a cumulative score of -7 on the back nine, they posted a team score of even-par 280, the third-lowest number in school history.

As a result of the fiery final nine, the Eagles moved into 10th place among 30 teams and made the cut going into the final round on Sunday.

Leading the late charge for Bridgewater was junior Ronald Uszenski, who struggled with his wedges throughout the round, a situation that came to a head on the 15th hole- Uszenski had a 60-yard approach on the par-4, which he chunked into the front bunker; he then left his sand shot well short of the hole. Uszenski ended up having to make a 5-foot putt for bogey. "Ronnie did a good job of keeping his emotions in check at that point," said head coach John Rogers. "This was the kind of situation that makes golfers really lose it, but he channeled his anger, and what happened next was special."

As he headed to the short par-5 16th hole, Uszenski was two over par, but he hit his second shot to three feet and tapped in the eagle putt to quickly get back to even. Still fuming on #17, he spun his approach on the 180-yard par-3 back to two feet for a birdie. And he followed that up by reaching the narrow par-5 finishing hole in two shots and two-putting for another birdie. Having played the final three holes at -4, Uszenski posted a 68 (two under par), his lowest collegiate score (tying his lowest in relation to par). This was also tied for the sixth lowest round in school history.

Sophomore Jason Spaar, having played his last 36 holes at -2 cumulative, continued his stellar play with a similarly hot stretch on the back nine. Coming to the 14th hole Spaar was a little frustrated- he had bogeyed #8 and #9 to turn at +2, and he had hit numerous excellent approach shots on the back nine, but had converted none of his birdie putts. Then on #14 Spaar finally dropped a 12-foot downhill putt for birdie and followed that with an 8-foot side-winder on #15. Suddenly back to even par, Spaar took advantage of the reachable 16th hole and dropped a 4-footer for eagle. A visit to the greenside bunker on #17 and some trouble on the narrow 18th hole led to a bogey-bogey finish and an even-par total of 70, tying the career number he set just two weeks ago.

"Jason actually played even better than his score today," noted Rogers. "He gave himself a lot of birdie opportunities, and I was with him on #18- I'm afraid I helped him make a decision that cost him a stroke, but that's golf, not a 'game of perfect' for players, or for coaches. Regardless, he has now played 54 straight holes of tournament golf with a total score of two under par. Great stuff."

Freshman Seth Smallwood has been taking on more of a leadership role for the Eagles in recent weeks, and continued the trend on Saturday. Struggling to qualify for the starting lineup early in the season, Smallwood has posted one of the top-two scores for his team in three of the last four rounds Bridgewater has played. He was actually the steadiest player on the squad in the second round of the Marine Corps Intercollegiate, hitting 12 greens in regulation and having two birdies on each side en route to an even-par 70. In Smallwood's short collegiate career, this was his low score by seven strokes and his best in relation to par by four strokes.

At the Marlins Invitational two weeks ago, Spaar had the unusual experience of shooting his highest and lowest collegiate rounds in less than 24 hours. Today it was senior Eugene Dillon's turn: coming off of an 88 on the challenging Gold course on Friday, Dillon bounced back with a 72 on the Scarlet course, his lowest collegiate score (tying his best in relation to par). Following the team pattern, Dillon had three birdies on the closing nine, including a 12-footer on the final hole that dropped to give him a score of 34 on the back.

Sophomore Brendan Draughn also got in on the action, heating up when he dropped a 15-footer on the par-3 13th hole and chasing it with two more birdies in the next three holes. Draughn shaved six strokes from front to back and his final number of 74 only missed his career mark by one shot.

At the 54-hole Marine Corps tournament, the top half of the field plays for the championship on the Gold Course on Sunday, while the bottom-half returns to the Scarlet course to try to win the "losers bracket". Entering the tournament ranked #17 among 30 teams, Bridgewater was clearly a 'bubble team', but back-to-back strong performances have them ahead of some nationally-competitive teams and the Eagles made the cut for the second time in three years. "The guys have shown some real grit this spring." said Rogers. "As spring college golf tends to go, every round we have played this year has been in rain, or heavy wind, or sopping wet ground conditions, and we have also been competing without our lowest scorer from the fall season- but the guys continue to bounce back from the challenges and post some of their best rounds. We are a pretty good team, but the guys are starting to think and execute the way that great teams do."

With one round to go, the Eagles are ahead of six teams ranked significantly higher in the national rankings, and they are only three shots from seventh place in this strong field.

When play resumes at 9:00 Sunday morning the Eagles will have a chance to conclude their best-ever performance at the competitive Marine Corps Intercollegiate.