Men's Golfers Win Firestone Invitational Going Away
AKRON, Ohio -- The Ball State men's golf team pulled away from the field Tuesday for a 13-stroke victory at the Firestone Invitational presented by FirstEnergy Solutions.
The Cardinals, which extended their three-shot lead entering the day, placed two golfers among the top three individually with junior Tyler Merkel finishing second and senior Joe Gasser tying for third.
The only team to post two rounds under par, Ball State closed the weather-shortened tournament with a 36-hole total of 7-under 569 (282-287). The event was originally scheduled for 54 holes but was trimmed to 36 when frost delayed the start of play for Monday's opening round.
Ball State's closest competition came from Saint Mary's, the tournament's highest rated team entering the week at No. 22 in the Golfstat Relative Rankings. The Gaels finished at 6-over par (582), followed by Davidson in third at 7-over (583) and tournament host Akron at 8-over (584).
Merkel, who held a share of the lead entering the day, was edged by one stroke for medalist honors by Sean Bosdosh of Maryland. Bosdosh came from one shot back to take first place at 5-under on the par-72, 7,125-yard North Course at the famous Firestone Country Club.
Merkel played steady Tuesday with 14 pars, two birdies and a pair of bogeys to post an even-par round. He finished the day where he started at 4-under with a two-day total of 140 (68-72) on the way to his second consecutive top-5 finish. Merkel, an NCAA Regional participant last spring, tied for fourth in the Cardinals' last outing at the Golfweek Conference Challenge.
Gasser made the biggest move for Ball State in Tuesday's final round, climbing from 10th on the leaderboard into a tie for third to mark the best finish of his career. One of only three golfers in the tournament to play under par both days, Gasser's 2-under round Tuesday left him just two shots off the winning score at 3-under 141 (71-70). It was the fifth career top-10 finish for the local product from Yorktown, Ind.
Tony Lazzara also recorded the best result of his Ball State career, tying for 12th place out of the 90 golfers in the field. Lazzara finished at 1-over 145 (72-73) after another steady round Tuesday.
Alex Stinson gave the Cardinals four golfers in the top 20 with a score of 2-over 146 (71-75) to tie for 17th. Brodie Williams rounded out the BSU lineup, bouncing back from a tough opening day with an even-par round Tuesday to tie for 30th at 5-over 149 (77-72).
Freshman James Blackwell, competing as an individual, finished the tournament at 10-over 154 (77-77). Blackwell birdied his first four holes Tuesday to climb way up the leaderboard before hitting a tough stretch in the back half of his round.
This week's tournament victory is the 13th stroke play title for Ball State in head coach Mike Fleck's 14 years leading the program. The Cardinals, which won the Mid-American Match Play last spring, claimed their last stroke play title at their own Earl Yestingsmeier Invitational in the 2011 spring season.
This year's Earl Yestingsmeier Invitational, now a fall event, is next up on the Cardinals' schedule. Ball State will host the tournament next Monday and Tuesday at Delaware Country Club in Muncie. It will be the fourth of five events on BSU's fall slate.