- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Michael Kessler, Daily Sports Writer
Published September 23, 2013
Sophomore Chris O’Neill got his season off to a sizzling start at the Wolverine Invitational last week with a second-place finish. So how would he top that effort in the Michigan men’s golf team’s second event of the year?
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He topped it by not only playing injured, but also winning in dominating fashion as his tournament-winning eight-under-par 208 led the Wolverines to a third-place finish at the Windon Memorial in Lake Forest, Ill., on Monday.
O’Neill sprained his ankle in warmups at the team hotel before a practice round, yet he showed no ill effects from the setback. Playing with a taped-up ankle, he shot under par in each of the three rounds and saved his best for last: a three-under-par, bogey-less back nine in the final round Monday that helped catapult Michigan into the top three after briefly falling into eighth earlier in the day. The third-place performance was a marked improvement over the past two years of participating in the event, in which the Wolverines failed to crack the top eight.
“(O’Neill) is really mentally tough, and he manages the course really well,” said Michigan coach Chris Whitten. “I don’t think he hit it or putt(ed) it the best he’s ever done, but he just knows how to manage his game, and he keeps eliminating shots that hurt his round or that stop momentum. I think he just hit the best shots when he had to this week.”
Michigan has been a mainstay in the 16-team event, which included perennial top 30 programs like host and first-place finisher Northwestern, Kent State and Arkansas this year. O’Neill’s top score continued an impressive run of individual performances at the Windon Memorial for the Wolverines recently, with a Michigan golfer now winning the individual title in three of the past four years.
In addition to O’Neill’s strong performance, fellow sophomore Brett McIntosh finished in a tie for third overall with a four-under-par 212.
“The course played well for me out there,” McIntosh said. “I just had to stick to my game plan, and for the most part, I did. There were a couple shots I wish I had back, but overall it was great.”
Though the season is still in its early stages, the sophomore duo of O’Neill and McIntosh has already established itself as both the present and future of Michigan men’s golf.
“We’re both really competitive guys. We definitely push each other, we definitely talk about it amongst each other,” McIntosh said. “It’s just great that whether it’s in practice or at tournaments, we’re always pushing each other and the whole team as well.”
O’Neill and McIntosh have provided early-season fireworks for the Wolverines, but the rest of the youth-laden roster has yet to impress. None of the other three Michigan golfers at the Memorial finished in the top 40, and the team has just one upperclassman on the roster. But Whitten isn’t worried, and he feels his team will only get better as the season goes on.
“It’s not concerning because I know that the other guys — including the players at home that weren’t on this trip — are more than capable of contributing and playing at a really high level,” Whitten said. “We just need really good competition at home to make it feel like a tournament when we’re in practice, and then we’ll be ready the next time out.”
Nonetheless, coming off a mostly disappointing season last year in which Michigan finished 10th at the Big Ten Championships, the coaches are very encouraged by the team’s opening play this year.
“I think it was a good start,” Whitten said. “I think we can play better for sure, but I think Chris and Brett will keep getting better, and I know that our third through seventh players ... are capable of a lot better.”