Big 12 win possible for Tigers

Friday, April 23, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:30 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mindy Bullard was so excited she almost cried when Phil Mickelson won his first major a few weeks ago.

Imagine how excited Bullard, a junior golfer for Missouri, would be if the Tigers can win the Big 12 Conference Championships, which start today in College Station, Texas.

Oklahoma State has won the past three titles; the Tigers came in second by one stroke last year.

“We’ve finished second too many times for our liking,” Bullard said.

The Tigers finished second in three of their nine meets this spring. They won the Indiana Invitational, their last regular-season meet, though, and hope to ride the momentum into the three-day championships.

Bullard has Missouri’s fourth best stroke average. She finished second at last year’s championships and has improved her finish at each of the Tigers’ past four tournaments.

“I think it gives us a lot of confidence,” Missouri coach Stephanie Cooper said. “I think what was really impressive was Mindy and Kelli Strubinger, their performance at that tournament.”

At Indiana, Strubinger, a sophomore, finished fourth and Bullard finished tied for 12th.

“If we have that kind of production out of our three, four and five players that’s going to take a lot of pressure off of one and two so it makes us very competitive,” Cooper said.

This championship is Cooper’s third as the Tigers’ coach. In 2002, Cooper and the Tigers finished 10th. Now, MU can hold its own.

“We can get hot, we can make a lot of birdies and we can beat a lot of teams,” Cooper said. “I think for this tournament that’s what we’re looking to do. We have a lot of confidence. There’s no intimidation, which probably a couple years ago we’d be really nervous to play with a Texas or an Oklahoma State. The attitude has completely changed from two years ago.”

Cooper said the team is getting into a comfort zone. Bullard’s performance is a prime example.

“Everybody has their time of peaking during the season, mine just happens to be at this point,” she said. “Everybody has been so motivated. We really, really want to win this tournament.”

Denise Knaebel will likely lead the Tigers at Pebble Creek Country Club. Knaebel has the best stroke average in the Big 12 (74.20) .

Knaebel said her game is right where she wants it to be.

“We finally got that first at the last tournament, we’ve been in the top of enough tournaments that we’re about to get to the point where we’re ready to start winning a few more,” she said.

To get ready for the championships, the Tigers played practice rounds Thursday at the 6,242-yard Pebble Creek. When preparing for tournaments, MU plays in groups of five, gauging distances and scouring the course for possible trouble spots.

“We have a little book that they take notes on and they’ll draw all the holes out,” Cooper said. “It really just gives them a little bit of confidence about the choices that they’re going to make during the tournament.”

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