TRINITY -- No. 16-ranked Texas A&M is among the favorites at the Big 12 Men's Golf Championship beginning Friday at Whispering Pines Golf Club.
The Aggies are the top challenger to defending champion Oklahoma State, which is No. 5 in the latest Golfweek rankings. The Aggies are 3-3 against the Cowboys this season, including a 2-1 mark this spring.
A&M was runner-up to OSU by just seven strokes at the 2007 Big 12 Championship in Hutchinson, Kan., as the Cowboys won their fifth Big 12 crown. A&M last won a conference title in 1987, when it captured its 10th Southwest Conference championship.
The Big 12 Championship has been expanded this season from 54 to 72 holes. The 12-team field will play 36 holes on Friday, followed by the third round on Saturday and the final round on Sunday.
No other Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 25, although Texas Tech is close at No. 27.
Play begins at 8 a.m. on Friday and Sunday, and at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Admission to the tournament is free. Live scoring is available online at golfstat.com.
"I don't think we could be more excited about the Big 12 Championship," A&M Coach J.T. Higgins said. ?We have a great team and when we are playing well we are very tough to beat and can compete with any team in the nation. The guys have been working hard all spring in preparation for this tournament, which has been one of our goals since day one."
A&M is led by senior Bobby Gates and junior Bronson Burgoon, who tied for fourth at the Big 12 tournament last year. Gates, ranked No. 57 nationally by Golfweek, leads the team in scoring with a 72.80 scoring average and also tied for fourth at the 2006 Big 12 tournament. After sitting out the fall schedule, Burgoon is second on the team in scoring at 72.93.
Thanks to an outstanding spring, redshirt freshman Nacho Elvira boasts the highest national ranking for the Aggies at No. 49. Elvira is third on the team in scoring at 73.25, but has posted a blazing 70.9 average in four spring tournaments.
Elvira has had four straight top-15 finishes and has placed among the top six in his last three starts. He shot 12-under-par to win the Barona Collegiate Cup and was named the national player of the week by Golfweek and Golf World.
The 2007 Spanish Amateur champion, Elvira will compete in the Spanish Open, a European PGA Tour event, next week in Madrid, Spain.
Junior Matt Van Zandt and sophomore Andrea Pavan complete the lineup. Van Zandt averages 73.35 and has placed in the top 25 in four of five spring events, including a tie for sixth at the U.S. Collegiate Championship. Pavan averages 73.62 and was runner-up to Elvira at the Barona Collegiate Cup.
A&M has had a strong spring season, winning the Barona Collegiate Cup by 20 strokes with a school-record score of 37-under. The previous record was set in late February, when the Aggies shot 233-under in a runner-up finish at the Burns Intercollegiate in Hawaii. The Aggies are tied for second at the PING/Arizona State Invitational.
The Big 12 Championship was previously played at Whispering Pines in 2005 when Gates was a freshman. He tied for 25th place as the Aggies finished fifth. Oklahoma State won the title by nine shots.
Located 90 miles north of Houston, Whispering Pines has been rated as the state's top course for three straight years by The Dallas Morning News. The par-72 course measures 7,480 yards.
"Whispering Pines is a tremendous course and a wonderful test of golf," Higgins said. "It challenges players in all facets of the game as well as their patience and mental toughness. I believe in every player on this team and I think we are as ready as we have ever been."