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Strange things are happening at the Western Athletic Conference golf tournament, where perennial power BYU stood fourth and defending champion Utah seventh after the first 18 holes of the 54-hole event at a blustery UNM South Course.

Leading the way is San Diego State, which features perhaps the highest-paid and most under-qualified golf coach in America in Denny Stolz. Remember him? Last fall he was reveling in an upset victory over BYU on the football field, not too long before being fired as Aztec coach. Apparently he was handed the golf job as a consolation prize since he was still on contract and the old SDS coach is now the women's golf coach.While coaching the Aztec football program, Stolz was never a favorite of the media or fellow coaches because of his arrogant style. But he seemed more humble out at the scoreboard in his golf hat and running shoes as he scribbled down golf scores.

"I don't think that we expected to be in this position," he said. "It will be interesting to see how we do when we play with the top teams tomorrow."

But when questions started to get more personal in nature, Stolz reverted back to his old self.

What is your golf background?


None? "That's it - none."

Is the golf job permanent or temporary? "I don't know."

How do you like it? "It's a lot of fun."

With the last answer, Stolz abruptly wandered away without so much as an "excuse me" to attend seeminly more important business - sitting by himself and copying scores from the scoreboard.

While the Aztecs were the surprise leaders with their 2-over-par 290 total, one better than pre-tourney favorite UTEP and three ahead of host New Mexico, there was also a surprise in the individual competition.

Air Force's Chris Gough led the way with a 2-under-par 70, which left him a shot ahead of seven other golfers. Gough's score was the lone bright spot for the Falcons, which stood eighth at 307.

BYU found itself seven shots off the pace at 9-over 297, which isn't bad, except that the Cougars had made the turn at even-par, a score that would have given them the lead if they'd kept it up.

"Those were good scores for us today, but they could have been a lot better," said BYU Coach Karl Tucker. "Nobody could get it close and we had some four-putt and three-putt greens (on the back nine)."

BYU received 73s from Ryan Rhees, a freshman out of Orem, and junior Roberto Herrera; a 75 from freshman Ramon Brobio; a 76 from freshman Michael Weir; and a non-counting 77 from senior Rafael Ponce.

A team with much more experience, defending WAC champion Utah, had even more problems in struggling to a 304 total. The Utes' No. 5 player, Chuck O'Brien, who had to beat out senior Eric Nielsen in a playoff earlier this week just to be here, led the way with a 74. Matt Johnson, the defending WAC individual champion, could only manage a 75, while Devin Dehlin had a 77 and Doug Roberts a 78. Freshman Marty Romney was the non-counter with an 81.

Since they were in seventh place, the Utes were scheduled to be in the first group Friday, an advantage since the wind is more of a bother to the later-starting groups.

The teams to beat still seem to be UTEP, which has been ranked in the top 10 in the nation all year, and New Mexico, which has the home-course advantage. BYU is still close enough to challenge.

"San Diego State leading - that cracks me up. I don't know a thing about them," said BYU's Tucker.

It may be funny now, but by the end of the week the Aztecs may be getting the last laugh and Denny Stolz may be the first to win WAC coach of the year in two sports.