April 2, 1999

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Notre Dame junior Jeff Connell (LaCrosse, Wis.) is tied for first place while the Irish are just three shots behind team leader Miami, Ohio, following first-day action Friday at the annual Johnny Owens Invitational.

Connell and Xavier’s Steve Dixon are tied for first place among the 90-player field, heading into Saturday’s final 18 holes. Connell fired rounds of 70 and 71 on Friday while Dixon turned in rounds of 73-68 at the par-72 Kearny Hills Golf Links.

Connell needs to shoot a final-round 68 to break his own Notre Dame record for a 54-hole tournament score (four-under 209), set at the par-71 Marshall Invitational in the spring of 1998. A two-under 70 in Saturday’s round would give Connell a five-under total, besting his finish at Marshall for the program’s best 54-hole score in relation to par.

The Irish used matching rounds of 294 on Friday to post a 588 total, just three shots behind team leader Miami (294-291) and two shots behind Ohio University (293-294).

Irish co-captain Brad Hardin (Martinsville, Ind.) continued the stellar play of his entire senior season by carding rounds of 73-71 for a share of seventh place heading into the final round. His classmate Willie Kent posted rounds of 73-78, with freshman Steve Ratay (78-74) and junior co-captain Todd Vernon (78-80) rounding out the Irish contingent.

Notre Dame finished second at the 1998 Johnny Owens Invitational, after rounds of 301-293-294. Kent (72-75-71) tied for fourth in that event, with Hardin (75-74-74), Vernon (72-72-76) and Connell (79-75-75) also participating. The Irish finished fourth at the Johnny Owens in 1997, with Hardin (74-78-80) and Vernon (77-69-80) among the starting five.

Hardin owns a 74.88 career stroke average in eight rounds at the Johnny Owens while Vernon averaged 74.33 strokes per round during his previous two showings at Kearny Hills (before extending his frustrating 1998-99 season with Friday’s 158 total).

TEAM STANDINGS: 1. Miami (OH) 294-291/585; 2. Ohio University 292-294/586; 3. Notre Dame 294-294/588; 4. Xavier 301-291/592; 5. Kentucky 306-289/695; Louisville 298-297/595; Ball State 308-287/595; 8. Eastern Kentucky 302-294/596; 9. Morehead State 305-295/600; 10. Eastern Michigan 305-296/601; Marshall 300-301/601; 12. Indiana 302-302/604; Western Kentucky 309-295/604; 14. Wright State 300-305/605; Murray State 304-301/605; 16. Vanderbilt 311-300/611; 17. Iowa 308-304/612; 18. Youngstown State 312-301/613.

TOP INDIVIDUALS (of 90): 1. Jeff Connell (ND) 70-71/141; Steve Dixon (XAV) 73-68/141; 3. Brad Faulkner (LOU) 71-72/143; Erik Herberth (OHIO) 73-70/143; Jay Spargrove (OHIO) 71-72/143; Eric Willenbrink (EKU) 73-70/143; 7. Brad Hardin 73-71/144; Sam O’Dell (MAR) 72-72/144; Borja LaRoche (WKU) 72-72/144; 10. Jeremy Langley (KY) 71-74/145; Tee McCabe (MIA) 74-71/145.

OTHER NOTRE DAME SCORES: 38. Willie Kent 73-78/151; 40. Steve Ratay 78-74/152; 77. Todd Vernon 78-80/158.