Pinehurst, N.C. - Freshman Mark David Johnson concluded a career-best fifth-place finish on Tuesday afternoon to lead Western Carolina to a sixth-place showing at the 2016 Southern Conference Men's Golf Championship at the par-72, 7,091-yard Pinehurst No. 9. Johnson posted a final round 2-over par, 74, for a team-best, three-day score of 217.
With three golfers inside the individual top 10 including medalist - and SoCon Men's Golfer of the Year -Adrian Meronk, defending tournament champion ETSU emerged from a tight multiple-team race to repeat as the team champion, edging UNCG by a stroke, 876-to-877, to win its 19th title all-time. It is the second-straight year ETSU has edged UNCG for the team crown. The Buccaneers receive the SoCon's automatic bid to the NCAA regional field and will learn their destination on Thursday, May 5 when the NCAA field is announced on the Golf Channel at 9:30 am.
Meronk rallied past second-round leader Jeremy Grab of Wofford - with whom he was paired with on Tuesday - taking the title by a stroke, 210-to-211, over the two-way tie for the runner-up spot between Grab and Furman's Bryce Howell.
Johnson's fifth-place tie matches the best finish by a Catamount freshman at the conference championship since Matt Cook also came home tied for fifth at the 2005 tournament. It is also the third-straight year WCU has had a golfer post a top-five individual finish as J.T. Poston won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015. Johnson's 54-hole score of 217 (72-71-74) ranks tied for the eighth-lowest by a Catamount men's golfer at the championship-crowning event.
Opening the final day on the back nine, Johnson carded six-consecutive pars to open his final round before scoring birdie on the par-4 16th for a second-straight day to move to 1-under par. A bogey on the next hole - the par-3 17th - relegated back to even where he made the turn to the front nine, still among the individual top five.
After consecutive pars to start his final nine holes, Johnson bogeyed the par-4 third for a second time in as many days to move to 1-over for the round before getting the stroke back with his second birdie of the day - and the team-best 12th of the event - on No. 4. The St. Simons Island, Ga., native was poised to finish at even-par before a double-bogey on the par-5 eighth left him two-over for the round.
Senior Tyler Lail matched his second round score of 1-over par, 73, on Tuesday, advancing one position in the final standings to finish tied for 14th overall. The Conover, N.C., product charted a pair of birdies among his first five holes on Tuesday to counter a bogey, turning to the back nine at 1-under par. A second bogey on Hole No. 1 - a par-4 - left him even-par with six holes to play.
Lail finished with three pars, two bogies and a birdie on his final hole of the championship, shooting 222 (76-73-73) for the second-straight event to conclude his Catamount career. He tallied his eighth, top 20 individual finish of his WCU career on Tuesday, ending with a career stroke average of 75.76, 13th in program history.
Sophomore Jackson Bishop was the biggest mover in the final round for the Catamounts, advancing 10 spots in the standings to place tied for 18th, improving upon his 20th-place showing in his freshman season. A product of Gainesville, Ga., Bishop made the turn to the back nine at 2-over par, countering a double-bogey with a birdie early in his final round before a bogey on No. 18 prior to the turn. He quickly got back on track, though, with back-to-back birdies on the first and second holes on the front nine to return to even-par with six to play, charting a fourth birdie on the par-5 eighth for his tourney-low round of 1-under, 71.
Rounding out WCU's scoring five were freshmen Lawson King and Bradley Durand. King came home tied for 34th at 234 (81-74-79) with 12 pars and six holes over par on Tuesday while Durand finished 39th at 240 (79-82-79) in his first conference championship, carding three birdies and the team's lone eagle on the par-5 15th on the final day of competition.
All told, the Catamounts finished the tournament tied for the best par-3 scoring average at 3.17 (+10), finishing fourth overall with 159 pars as a team.
ETSU, Furman, UNCG, Chattanooga and Wofford were all in contention on the final day, with all but the Mocs claiming at least a share of the lead at some point. In the end, it was the Bucs that emerged victorious, doing just enough on a day that saw higher scores across the board to claim their second straight title. ETSU turned in an 11-over-par 299 in the third round and finished at 12-over 876.
UNCG's Bryce Hendrix was named the SoCon Freshman of the Year and ETSU's Fred Warren and Wofford's Vic Lipscomb shared Coach of the Year honors in balloting of the coaches, who also named an all-conference and all-freshman team.
|5th-t||Mark David Johnson||72||71||74||217||+1|