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Y. golfers favored in Cougar Classic

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PROVO — If rankings mean anything, the BYU men's golf team should have no problem taking home the team trophy from the 42nd Cougar Classic, which begins this morning at Riverside Country Club.

The Cougars come in ranked No. 16 in current Golfweek rankings, and the next closest team of the 14 that will participate in this week's match is Colorado State at No. 27.

But let's not forget last year's event. The Rams came in and took advantage of the Cougars' poor performance to head home with a one-stroke victory. Martin Laird, who took medalist honors and gave his team the one-shot win with an aggressive birdie on the final hole is back. The Rams should again be the Cougars' stiffest competition.

Denver, which tied BYU for second last year, is also back. Rounding out the field is UTEP, Air Force, Fresno State, Utah State, Utah, Southern Utah, Nevada, UC Davis, Wyoming, Hawaii, Boise State and Weber State. Play begins at 8 a.m. today with golfers facing 36 holes the first day and 18 holes on Saturday.

The Cougars are led again by Oscar Alvarez, who lost medalist honors by three strokes to Laird last year. Alvarez, a sophomore from Colombia, has a stroke average of 71.8 and has shared the No. 1 player rankings this year with juniors Todd Miller and Greg Machtaler and freshman Jake Ellison. BYU won the Morris Williams Intercollegiate event in March and has placed fifth or better in nine of 10 tournaments this season.

The Cougar Classic is the final tune-up before next week's Mountain West Conference tournament at Sunriver, Ore. The NCAA West Regionals are May 20-22 at the same Sunriver Resort. A Top -10 finish there would earn the Cougars a spot in the NCAA finals June 1-4 in Virginia.

"We practice all year for this week and the next couple of weeks. I expect our guys will come out and play well," BYU coach Bruce Brockbank said.

Utah returns everyone from last year and could be the sleeper this weekend. The Utes are led by seniors Garrett Clegg and Luke Swilor. Senior Carl Jensen and sophomore Casey Fowles also have the talent to play well.

Utah State, Weber State and Southern Utah have young teams, but all have a few players who could contend for medalist honors. The Aggies are led by sophomore Cody Huot. Sophomore Barry Schenk is the Wildcats' top player. The Thunderbirds expect Kenny Ebalo, a sophomore from Las Vegas, to be their low scorer.

E-mail: jimr@desnews.com