So, if BYU's golf team is a Top 10 caliber squad, it should win the Cougar Classic at home, the track at Riverside Country Club, right?

Yes.

Yet, winning at Riverside, the one course in the world the Cougars are most familiar with, has eluded BYU the past two years. Some could call it a choke. Others might say they've pressed and just blown it. The truth is, others were simply better in Provo.

In 2004 and 2003, the titles went to Colorado State. You have to go back to 2002 to get a BYU win, and the Cougars have won only once in four tries.

This is an event the Cougars have won 30 of 41 times. At one stretch from the late '60s to 1988, they won 20 straight. Johnny Miller holds the first-round record with a 9-under 63. His son Andy holds the tournament record, 201 for 54 holes or 15-under par.

It's got some history and celebrity. Tiger Woods was medalist for Stanford in 1996. Johnny Miller won it twice. Andy Miller did it in 2000. A Master's champion Mike Weir never won, but teammate Dean Wilson finished first in 1990 only to lose in a playoff to a UNLV guy. Mike Reid won in 1973, and Bruce Summerhays, a Ute, won in 1964, the second annual Cougar Classic.

In short, this is generally a BYU centerpiece. Will they lose three in a row?

The Cougars can reclaim their honor this weekend when Bruce Brockbank's No. 12 team hosts the Ping Cougar Classic. The format calls for 36 holes Friday and final 18 on Saturday. The field will not include New Mexico and UNLV, GolfWeek's No. 4 and 5 ranked teams. But the pesky Rams return to defend their title, and all Utah's collegiate teams will be present, as will other regional and MWC teams.

BYU's coach keeps his instructions simple: Win.

Brockbank just wants his squad to settle down and make some birdie putts. "We've had the tendency to put pressure on ourselves playing here, and we simply haven't put enough good shots together to get it done."

The other challenge? Brockbank's squad tends to be too aggressive. They can't find the reins. They've got confidence they can't back up all the time. They go for broke when sometimes they should go for the middle of greens, trying for par instead of shooting for birdies on every hole.

Brockbank would like to get back to the rhythm of last October when, on consecutive weekends, the Cougars won the Fresno Lexus Classic and Barona Collegiate Cup in San Diego by nearly 50 strokes.

Saturday's final standings will prove key for many squads in the field. Teams like Utah and SUU are trying to make the field for the NCAA regionals at Stanford May 19-22. The MWC championships at Sun River, Ore., next week will be another chance to enhance selection into NCAA post-season play for the Utes and CSU.

This year, Brockbank will field two teams in the field. It helps that the Rebels and Lobos decided to skip Provo. UNLV's Ryan Moore is ranked No. 1 in the nation; UNM's Spencer Levin is No. 2.

The Cougars feature 31st-ranked Greg Machtaler, who was ranked 16th nationally a week ago. Oscar Alverez is ranked No. 33, and he's a guy who's shot course-record 61s back in his native country of Columbia.

The Cougars dropped from No. 8 to 12 this week after finishing sixth at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational at Tempe a week ago.

"It's kind of painful when you host your own tournament and don't win it for a few years," Boise sophomore Nick Becker said. "It's been our goal all seasonlong not to just win the Cougar Classic but dominate it and win by 15 or 20 strokes."

Becker said the pressure is part of losing at home. "But the other part of it is other teams come in and play very well. Credit them, they get up for it and outplay us, and that's a big factor.

"You get out there and feel the pressure to shoot a 66, but the greens are hard and the wind may come up or the weather gets bad and sometimes the shots you think you can make end up hurting you because you are aggressive. We should be happy with a 69, 70 or 71 but end up with a 74 or 75."

The greens at Riverside are hard and will be fast. Rain this week may help, but the field will see greens that are not receptive and generally make the rack tough.

"I think we'll come out and play well," senior Todd Miller said. "I'm not playing that well, and I won't be playing with the first team out there. But this team is motivated. They've played poor in a couple of tournaments in a row, but I think they'll go out there and tear it up. We haven't done well here, but that happens, it's time to go out and win here."

Todd's take on the home squad:

Best putter: "Nick Becker. He's as good a putter as you'll ever see."

Longest driver: "It's between Oscar and Matchtaler. Oscar's an awesome driver, but Match is long, high and straight. Jake Ellison is the shorter on the team, but he hits it straight."

Best wedge player: "I think we're pretty decent as a team in that category, but we could improve."

Best chipper: "Oscar is pretty good. Matchtaler is pretty streaky, he can get where he's chipping really well. Those guys are good, but Oscar probably has the edge."

Best sand player: "Oscar, put him there."

Hardest worker: "Nick Becker. Of the top five players, he's out here more than anybody, practicing or playing rounds."

The favorite to win: He shouldn't have to say.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com