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Tyler Merkel owns the first-round lead in Burlington, Iowa.
Photo by: SE Sports Media/Sideline Sports
Merkel, McKinney in Top 3 after Golfweek Round One

BURLINGTON, Iowa -- Tyler Merkel turned in the round of the day with a 3-under par 69 to grab the first-round lead Sunday at the Golfweek Conference Challenge.

Teammate Keegan McKinney is one of eight players who are two shots back in a tie for third at Spirit Hollow Golf Club.

Merkel and McKinney led a front-nine effort that had Ball State at the top of the team leaderboard, but a challenging back nine left the Cardinals in 12th place after the first of three rounds.

Ball State finished the day with a score of 15-over par 303 after also counting an 81 from James Blackwell and an 82 from McCormick Clouser.

Houston is leading the tournament after an opening round of 1-over par 289, while Oklahoma and New Mexico are tied for second at 2-over.

The tournament resumes Tuesday with tee times starting at 9 a.m. CT (10 a.m. ET). Ball State will be playing the second round with LSU and Florida Gulf Coast, starting on the back nine. Live scoring is available at

In Sunday’s opening round, Merkel made six birdies and had his round as low as 5-under par before giving a couple strokes back late and finishing at 3-under. He holds a one-shot lead over New Mexico’s Victor Perez entering the second round.

McKinney, playing just the second event of his college career, carded 17 pars and one birdie. He tied for the most pars in the field on the opening day.

Blackwell and Clouser also had solid rounds going near the turn before tough finishes. Blackwell was 1-over through 12 holes before playing his last six in 8-over. Clouser was 1-under at the turn but struggled to a 47 on the back side. Ball State’s non-counting score on the way was an 83 from Quentyn Carpenter.

That trio will look to turn things around Monday. A strong second round could vault the Cardinals up a fairly tight leaderboard that features 12 top-100 teams from a year ago.
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