Covrig hoping to make history at Masters

STOCKTON -- Daniel Covrig won't surprise anyone today, not like a year ago when he fired a 3-over 75 at The Reserve to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters tournament.

Not only did that end a bid by Turlock's Sam Smith to become the section's first three-time champ, it helped get Covrig a scholarship to UC Davis.

With his future secure, the Johansen High senior will be playing for his place in history: Only six golfers have won consecutive titles at the section's premier tournament -- which tees off at 8:30 a.m. and will again be at The Reserve.

Covrig got into the Masters by shooting a 3-under 69, overcoming poor weather, to win the Division 1 title last week at Brookside Country Club.

"Playing so well, despite all the wind and rain, is great for my confidence," said Covrig, who won by seven strokes. "I wasn't happy with my play at the end of the regular season, so I was real happy with a 69."

Brookside, with fast greens and a thick rough, got the better of many of Covrig's foes.

"You didn't want your ball in the rough. It's tough to get out," said Beyer's Drake Ortega, the Modesto Metro Conference champ who shot an 80 to advance to The Reserve. "The course taught you to be careful with your shots. I can take that into the Masters event."

Teams from Johansen, Bret Harte and Oakdale are playing, as well as eight individuals from the Stanislaus District. The top three teams and top four players not on those teams advance to the Northern California Tournament, May 24 at Diablo Grande.

While Covrig mastered one of the top courses in the section, Beyer's Ortega and Pitman's Troy Bennett battled through all 18 holes.

Ortega shot a career-best 70 two weeks ago for the MMC title. That, however, was on a clear, calm day at Creekside, a municipal course that provides few challenges.

When it comes to difficulty, The Reserve course is closer to Brookside than Creekside.

Ortega says the key today is the short game that was so effective in the regular season. It abandoned him last week.

"Chipping and putting, saving strokes by getting on the green and knocking down the first putt," Ortega said. "This is a great opportunity, playing the Masters as a junior."

Bennett is also a junior, and his 77 last week was his best round of the season. He shot an 80 at the Central California Conference Tournament.

"I shot 36 in the back nine, so I need to put together a consistent round (at Masters)," he said. "I didn't get past (Division 1) last season, but I've been improving my game."