No. 5 New Mexico uses late surge to secure fifth Mountain West title
TUCSON, Ariz. -- A day after two-time conference champion San Diego State made its rally at the 2013 Mountain West championship, fifth-ranked New Mexico seized early control of the final round at the Omni Tucson National Catalina Course and maintained it for a 54-hole, 8-under-par 844 to win the conference crown, its fifth MW championship overall.
"This victory was very rewarding, but it was also a huge relief," UNM coach Glen Millican said. "We came in here as the favorites, and everybody was expecting us to win. So to come through like that was big for us. This also validates our regular season."
The Lobos and 12th-year coach Millican now have a league-high five titles in their possession.
Senior James Erkenbeck shot a final-round 6-under par 65, narrowly missing the individual crown. Erkenbeck finished at 6-under 207 (72-70-65), one stroke behind champion Kevin Penner of UNLV (67-72-67), whose birdie on the par-3 17th hole was the difference.
"It would've been the perfect finish," Erkenbeck said of narrowly missing out on the individual title, "but really, I was just trying to hit good shots to help us win."
It's been seven years since the Lobos won their last Mountain West tournament. UNM last won in 2006, capping off a four-year title run.
"This one was great because it's the first time we won the title on this course," Millican said.
The Lobos' scored eight under par (282-281-281=844) for the event and eight was the margin of victory against runners-up UNLV (287-284-281=852) and San Diego State (288-275-289=852). New Mexico and San Diego State entered the day tied at five under.
"We got it going on the back nine," senior John Catlin said, "and having a pretty big lead coming down the stretch was nice. It made it a lot better than it coming down to the last hole where anything could happen."
The win was UNM's fourth of the season, which was the team's most since 2004-05. The Lobos captured their 22nd conference championship since they first shared the Border Conference championship in 1948.
The victory marked Millican's 21st tournament win as a head coach. He trails Dick McGuire by seven for the all-time UNM lead in wins.
The Lobos watched their lead grow on the front nine Sunday by shooting even-par as a team and watching the Aztecs battle the course to a 4-over start. UNLV put itself in contention by shooting four under.
UNM took off during the back nine, thanks in large part to Erkenbeck, who birdied seven of his last 11 holes and five of his last nine, taking the lead after his birdie on No. 16. His 65 was the low round during the event.
Catlin also got hot, birdieing four of his first six holes on the back nine (with a bogey on No. 12). Catlin was as low as four under, then coasted to the finish with 1-under 212 (74-67-71) to tie for sixth place.
"I putted a lot better the last two days," Catlin said, "and a lot of my confidence comes from making putts. I guess you could say that I work from the green backward."
Sophomore Gavin Green, who briefly led during rounds two and three, was two under on the back nine Sunday. He finished third in the event at 4-under 209.
"What broke it for us was the way James [Erkenbeck], John [Catlin] and Gavin [Green] played from holes 10 to 16," Millican said. "We went from clinging to a lead to being ahead by a lot, and it was just a great performance."
Sophomore Victor Perez, the tournament leader after the first round with a 5-under 66, finished tied 13th after back-to-back 75s in the second and third rounds that left him at three over.
Perez, Erkenbeck and Green all led or shared the lead at some point in the tournament, and Catlin pulled to second during a portion of Sunday's round.
"This team has so many weapons," Catlin said. "This team is the most dangerous one I've been on."