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Saturday November 26th

Burnett leads the way as UNC men's golf finishes fourth in John Burns Intercollegiate

<p>UNC men's golf first-year Ryan Burnett follows through on a shot at Finley golf course on Sept. 5. Photo courtesy of UNC athletic department.</p>
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UNC men's golf first-year Ryan Burnett follows through on a shot at Finley golf course on Sept. 5. Photo courtesy of UNC athletic department.

The North Carolina men’s golf team started slowly but showed steady improvement each round, posting a team score of 18-under-par as they finished fourth out of 20 teams at the John Burns Intercollegiate in Hawai’i this weekend. 

What happened?

The team made the 4,817 mile trip to Lihue, H.I. early last week, stopping in Phoenix for a practice round before arriving in the Aloha state on Wednesday evening. 

Play began on Thursday, but the Tar Heels were sluggish out of the gates. Senior Josh Martin led the way for the team with a three-under 69, but he was the only UNC player to break par on the first day. Ryan Burnett, Ryan Gerard and Dougie Ergood each shot a one-over 73 and Austin Hitt came in with a disappointing three-over 75 to leave the team tied for seventh place at even par after the opening round. 

“Round one was just sloppy,” head coach Andrew DiBitetto said. “We had some unforced errors, some self-inflicted wounds, and that night we actually talked about changing up our strategy and just being smarter and more poised on the golf course.” 

The talk seemed to provide a spark, with a pair of low rounds from Burnett and Hitt giving North Carolina some momentum on the second day. Burnett fired a five-under 67 that featured a scorching run of five straight birdies plus an eagle on the par-five first hole, while Hitt went on a four-hole birdie streak of his own en route to a 69. Gerard came in with a one-under 71 while Martin and Ergood both struggled, each shooting a 74 as the team moved up one spot to sixth on the team leaderboard. 

Burnett also moved up into a tie for 13th in the individual standings to sit just four shots back of the leader heading into the final round. 

The final round was the best of the week for the Tar Heels, with four players breaking par. Burnett got off to a fast start with a birdie on the course’s fourth hole (his first hole of the day) before following it up with back-to-back birdies on the eighth and ninth to move within striking distance of the individual lead. 

He ran into some mid-round doldrums, going one-over on the next nine holes, but then eagled the first hole for the second straight day to get himself to eight-under for the tournament. A bogey on the last hole dropped him back to seven-under, but it was still a solid week for Burnett, who finished tied for fourth in the individual standings. 

Gerard had the team’s best round of the day with a four-under 68, making five birdies to go with just one bogey. He finished tied for 16th, an impressive climb after being 42nd place after day one. Martin and Ergood finished their weekends with a pair of two-under rounds, while Hitt posted a 72 to round out the team. 

When all was said and done, UNC had finished with the best team score for round three with an 11-under 277. That sent them shooting up the leaderboard to fourth place overall, six shots back of winners Arizona State and just one behind Duke in third place. 

Who stood out?

Burnett led the way for the Tar Heels thanks to a pair of solid rounds on Friday and Saturday. The first-year from Lafayette, Calif., posted his second top-five finish of the season as an individual and also tied his best round of the season with the 67 in round two. 

DiBitetto was full of praise for not just Burnett but his entire team for how they all contributed. 

“Everybody had their moments,” he said. “For Ryan Burnett to be in contention and to have a chance to win was great. Josh (Martin) also carried us the first round a bit, he steadied the ship and shot 69, and then Ergood made some birdies late in the final round too.”

When was it decided?

The slow start put UNC at a bit of a disadvantage, but the team fought its way back with two solid rounds. The final day proved to be tight at the top of the leaderboard, and the six-shot margin between the Tar Heels and Arizona State could easily have been overcome with just a few less mistakes over the course of the weekend. 

Additionally, finishing ahead of rivals Duke to make it into the top three would have been a nice bonus for DiBitetto and his team, but they fell short by just a single shot out of the 846 that were played throughout the tournament. 

The individual standings also came down to the wire, with a late eagle by Burnett pushing him to within just a couple shots of the lead with two holes to play. Burnett ended up finishing three strokes back of the eventual winner, Peter Kuest of Brigham Young, but it was close until the very end. 

Why does it matter?

The tournament was just the second of the spring season, and with the schedule starting to heat up again in March, a positive result will give UNC some momentum heading into the business end of the season. 

“Overall it was a solid tournament,” DiBitetto said afterwards. “It was a step in the right direction, especially the last two rounds. The guys should be proud and excited about the performance. They’re proving to themselves that they have the ability to play with the best teams in the country.” 

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels have about two weeks off before they head to California to compete in the Lamkin Grips San Diego Classic March 11th-12th. 

@sam_jarden

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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