In his first competitive round as one of Yale’s top five, golfer Andrew Denenberg ’08 battled nerves and a tough course on his way to one of the worst scores of the day in the 20-school field, a 16-over par 88.

But Denenberg found his stroke over the next two rounds of the 54-hole El Diablo Intercollegiate, shooting a 77 on Saturday and a 73 on Sunday. The 15-stroke improvement helped to drive the surging Elis into a fourth place finish, ahead of district rivals University of Rhode Island and Army.

“I was fighting my swing a lot in the first round,” Denenberg said. “It was a combination of being a little nervous and not trusting myself. I just settled down on the last day. I started my second round as badly as my first, but then something clicked and I started playing really well for my last 30 holes.”

The Elis finished 50-over for the tournament with scores of 307, 300 and 307, two shots better than rival Rhode Island and 10 strokes better than 10th place finisher Army. Leading the way for the Elis was Mark Matza ’07, who finished in a three-way tie for ninth place after shooting nine-over par for the tournament.

“Mark Matza is a very consistent golfer,” head coach Dave Paterson said. “He’s really become the mainstay of our team. He’s always going to be around 75 or better. Sometime this spring he’ll break through to really low scoring.”

Captain Steve Gray ’05, who finished third on the Yale squad with an 18-over par 234, said the Elis put themselves in great position for a run at first place in the New England District.

“I think that we’re right on track,” Gray said. “We beat two teams in our district and that really helps our standing. We beat Rhode Island for the first time in at least six or seven years. They’ve been the best team in New England for a long time. We also beat Army, who’s ahead of us in our district standings.”

After struggling as a team last fall, the Elis are in fourth place in the District behind first-place Rhode Island, second-place Binghamton, and third-place Army. The top three teams earn automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. The only other way to get into the tournament is by winning the conference championship at the end of the season.

Despite sunny skies and gentle breezes, scores were high across the board, with Rhode Island’s Jay Pannone posting the best scores of 77, 70 and 72 for a three-over par finish. Matza was three under par through the first ten holes of his second round before slipping slightly on the back nine and finishing with a 73. Gray said the 7,045 yard course was difficult because of long, narrow fairways.

“A lot of other teams were rusty too,” Gray said. “It was a tough course to play that many holes on. I thought it was demanding off the tee. You never could really step up there and rip it. You had to think your way off the tee.”

The Elis bested Ivy rival Princeton by nearly 30 shots. The Tigers finished in 13th place after shooting plus-79 for the tournament.

The Bulldogs entered the spring season without finishing ahead of Rhode Island, Binghamton or Army in the two meets the Elis had with the teams last fall. A team can only improve its ranking by bettering a district rival in the same tournament. After the El Diablo, the Bulldogs’ record against Rhode Island and Army stands at 1-2, but the Elis will only meet each team one more time this season.

Paterson said Denenberg earned himself another start with his performance at the El Diablo while Matza, Gray, Rick Reissman ’06 will likely anchor the top-five for the 2005 campaign. Patterson added that the fifth spot will be determined by how the remaining players perform in practice.

The team travels to Greensville, S.C. next weekend for the Furman Intercollegiate in which the Elis will challenge Rhode Island among others. The Bulldogs will then travel to Salisbury, Md. the weekend of Apr. 2 for the Drew Upton/Towson Classic in which they will have the opportunity to even the score with Binghamton and Army.