by Rob Moseley
CRESWELL, Ore. — So far in 2014, playing on home turf hasn't provided much of a benefit to the Oregon men's golf team.
That's something the Ducks hope to turn around by May 15, the next time they play in their home state, as hosts of an NCAA Regional.
Playing their second straight tournament in-state, the UO men struggled again with windy conditions and finished third Tuesday in the Duck Invitational, played at the par-72, 7,165-yard Emerald Valley Golf Course. Oregon's previous tournament was a ninth-place finish at Bandon Dunes two weeks earlier.
"When conditions have been tough, we haven't done that great," UO coach Casey Martin said. "That's our hurdle — it's just the character of battling through some of the adversity. We've kind of wilted at times, and today we did. But you keep grinding."
Oregon entered the day at 8-over 584, two strokes behind Oregon State after the tournament's two opening rounds Monday. The Beavers held serve with a 3-over 291 in the final round Tuesday, while Oregon was 12-over for the day, falling to 20-over for the event, two strokes behind second-place Minnesota.
The Ducks started well through the first six holes of the third round, keeping pace with Oregon State. Oregon's fall corresponded roughly to afternoon winds that picked up over the course of the round.
The two straight subpar performances followed a victory for the UO men on Feb. 23 at the Cowboy Desert Intercollegiate in Palm Springs, Calif. The Ducks look to rebound against strong fields at The Goodwin hosted by Stanford, Friday through Sunday, and the Western Intercollegiate in Santa Cruz, Calif., on April 12-13.
"When things go well, we're pretty good, and then when things get tough, we don't handle it that great," Martin said. "We need to get better that way.
"We have time, and I've got a good crew. They're good kids and they work hard. But that's the challenge ahead of us."
The Ducks fielded a top five featuring three sophomores and a freshman this week, young players who figure to benefit from the experience of playing in tough conditions. Sophomore Sulman Raza finished at 2-over 218 to tie for sixth among individuals, with sophomore Brandon McIver another two strokes back.
Like the team as a whole, Raza excelled in Palm Springs in late February, finishing second as an individual, but has struggled the last couple weeks.
"I was probably overthinking my shot a lot," said Raza, who went 70-73-75 for the tournament. "When the wind comes up, you just start trying to hit the perfect shot, and then you start guiding it. There's going to be adversity but sometimes we don't handle it that great, because it frustrates us when we think we hit a great shot and something else affects it."
Oregon's top finisher, freshman Brandon Baumgarten, played as an individual and finished tied for third at even-par 216. Baumgarten shot 73-72-71 over two days, and earned himself a spot in the top five at The Goodwin, Martin said.
"I feel like I did pretty good; it was tough, and I played well," Baumgarten said. "The other week at Bandon it was blowing, and I hit it well there. So I had a little extra confidence when the wind picked up here."