ERIN – Hunter Eichhorn’s opening tee shot in the second round of the Marquette Intercollegiate on Monday took a wind-blown, right-hand turn and wound up in ankle-deep fescue a full 40 yards from the center of the fairway on the 10th hole at Erin Hills.
Hardly. Eichhorn was fortunate to draw a good lie, slashed his second shot just over the green and made a par. He would go on to shoot a 5-under 67, take the individual lead in the 54-hole event and spark a comeback that saw Marquette University shave 18 strokes off its first-round score and move up four spots in the team standings.
What’s more, though the Golden Eagles are in seventh place in the 12-team field going into the final round Tuesday, they trail first-place Purdue by just seven strokes.
After opening with a 302 in gale-force winds Sunday, Marquette bounced back to post 4-under 284 and was at 10-over 586. The Boilermakers knocked 23 strokes off their first-round score and were at 579, one stroke ahead of UCLA, two ahead of Indiana, three ahead of Northwestern and UC-Davis and four ahead of South Florida.
The Golden Eagles have finished third on three occasions – but never higher – in the tournament’s six-year history. Could this be the year they make a run at the title?
“We dug a pretty good hole at the start,” said coach Steve Bailey. “Who knows? Get out here early and post a little something and see what happens. It’s nice when you have a guy pace us like Hunter did today. Hopefully, it can get a little contagious with the rest of the guys tomorrow.”
Eichhorn, a junior from Carney, Mich., is in search of his fourth collegiate title. He made six birdies, on Nos. 13, 14, 18, 5, 6 and 9, and just one bogey. His two-round total of 7-under 137 was good for a one-stroke lead over Ashton Poole of Georgia State.
Eichhorn was paired with Poole (69) and Joey Ranieri of Ball State (74, T-17).
“I would say it does help the mood when you play with two guys who play well,” he said. “It was kind of nice to feed off each other and keep it going. I played kind of similar to how I did yesterday. It just wasn’t as windy today.
“I’ve got to hit some more fairways. I think I’ve hit 10 or 11 through two rounds but I’ve been scrambling pretty well. I’ve been able to hit a few good (approach) shots and make some birdies.”
Senior Matt Murlick bounced back nicely from an opening 80, shooting a 1-under 71 to move up into a tie for 41st. Sophomore Tyler Leach (T-27) added a 72 and freshman Bhoom Sima-Aree (T-59) shot a 74. Freshman Aiden Lafferty, playing as an individual, also shot a 74 and was tied for 17th.
Still, Bailey said the Golden Eagles left too many shots out on the course, especially on the par-5s. MU played them in a combined 5-over par over the first two rounds.
“We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the par-5s and managing our mistakes,” he said. “We actually made some good bogeys today after hitting it in the hazard. On (No.) 1, Tyler and (Murlick) both made 6s after hitting it in the hazard left. Matt actually came back and birdied the next two after that and that’s what you look for in a senior, to keep fighting.”
Wisconsin got solid play from junior Sam Anderson (72) and freshman Sebastian Iqbal (73), who were tied for 12th at 1-over 145.
But junior Griffin Barela (T-53), redshirt junior Nick Robinson (T-55) and freshman Coalter Smith (T-59) have struggled and the Badgers were 11th in the team standings going into the final round, ahead of only Ball State.
“We need to play better at the bottom of the lineup,” said coach Michael Burcin. “We need more help from the three-four-five (spots).”
Marquette is paired with Liberty and Georgia State for the final round Tuesday; they are set to start off the No. 10 tee at 8:30 a.m.
“We moved up quite a few spots today,” Eichhorn said. “Another solid day tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens.”