U in 5th after day one in Ariz.

Senior Justin Smith led the Gophers after firing a 2-under-par on Sunday.

by Adam Fink

The short game struggled, as Minnesota’s men’s golf coach Brad James expected.

But despite the Gophers’ disappointment over their performance on the greens, No. 11 Minnesota shot a 2-under-par and finished tied for fifth place after the first day of the National Invitational Tournament in Tucson, Ariz., on Sunday.

James said he feels good about the Gophers’ standing in the tournament, which wraps up Tuesday.

“There were a lot of good signs out there,” James said. “The guys did a lot of good things that didn’t show up in the score sheet.”

Arizona State tops the leader board after shooting a 9-under-par. Arizona, the host of the tournament, is tied for third place.

While James said the Gophers’ putting game is on pace compared to previous seasons, it has hampered theGophers.

Minnesota has been performing the other facets of the game well, especially striking the ball off the tee, and needs more time to shore up its putting, James said.

“We just didn’t putt very well,” he said. “Obviously, that is disappointing.”

Justin Smith, a senior from Pennsylvania, led the Gophers with a 2-under-par. Ben Greve, who earned the team’s fifth spot for the meet, finished even par along with David Morgan and Bronson La’Cassie.

John Hempstock finished 10-over-par for the day.

The tournament features 11 teams, with Minnesota competing as the most geographically northern team.

The first Gophers golfer to tee off today is La’Cassie, who begins his 18 holes just after 11 a.m.

Minnesota finished 13th at the Hall of Fame Invitational last weekend and in eighth place at the Puerto Rico Classic on Feb. 24 – its two most recent tournaments.

Smith on watch list

Smith was named to the watch list for the annual Ben Hogan Award, presented to the best men’s collegiate golfer.

Smith, a two-time All American, was named a preseason second team All-American by Golfweek.

This year Smith has won two tournaments – the Adams Cup last September and the Landfall Tradition in November.

Ten semifinalists will be announced April 14. The field will be cut to five April 27, with the winner announced on May 6.

Smith and Indiana’s Jeff Overton are the only two Big Ten players to make the list.