Merritt makes history

Troy Merritt put the hammer down yesterday to become the first former Boise State Bronco to win on the PGA Tour. Rewind to Friday. It was a routine first-round report on Troy Merritt in the week’s PGA Tour event. Here’s what I wrote: “Merritt has missed his last five cuts dating back to The Memorial the first week of June, when he tied for 52nd. He’s going to need a big performance somewhere along the way in August to avoid being relegated to the Web.com Tour Finals in September.” How does August 2nd sound? How does a two-year exemption on the Tour sound? After setting a course record at the Quicken Loans National with a 10-under-61 Saturday, Merritt put the hammer down yesterday with a four-under 67 to win by three shots over Rickie Fowler. His final shot of the day was a 34-foot birdie putt, after which he turned to the crowd and shrugged his shoulders in an “I guess it was meant to be” gesture.

Merritt thus becomes the first former Boise State Bronco to win on the PGA Tour. It was Merritt’s first title in 96 starts on the PGA Tour and qualified him for his first major, the PGA Championship a week from Thursday—and his second, the Masters next April. It also gave him a stratospheric boost in FedExCup Standings—from No. 123 to No. 38. Oh, and it also earned him $1,206,000. The only other victory he’s had in the past seven years was in the Web.com Tour’s Mexico Open in 2009, but he sure knew how to win at Boise State. Including his WAC championship, Merritt won seven tournaments in 2008, the most in NCAA Division I.

One of the college football features over the weekend at SI.com was penned by Pete Thamel, headlined, “Boise State, teams outside Power 5 face difficult odds to reach Playoff.” Thamel was in Las Vegas for Mountain West Media Days last week, and he heard College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock’s oft-repeated recommendation for Group of 5 schools: “Play a good schedule, win your games, and you’re going to be in the hunt.” Bronco coach Bryan Harsin buys that formula. “I don’t think that’s a pipe dream,” Harsin said. “I still think college football is the greatest sport and most exciting for that reason, that you give a team like Boise a chance.”

Here’s Thamel’s counterpoint: “At no time in the past 15 years have smaller-conference teams been so distinctly removed from the national conversation.” Despite the chance that the Broncos could make a splash in September, Thamel points out that “the committee wipes the slate clean and re-ranks each week. In doing so, it will inherently hurt teams from outside the Power 5. When the first CFP rankings are released on November 3, Boise’s games from that date onward are New Mexico, Air Force, at San Jose State and potentially the Mountain West title game.” The opportunity for the Broncos to impress committee members at the end of the season is negligible when Power 5 teams are playing games of humongous importance.

Also at SI.com, Chris Burke’s “2016 Mountain West Draft Primer” has Boise State’s Darian Thompson as the No. 4 NFL prospect from the conference, trumpeting the senior safety’s 14 career interceptions. But, Burke writes, “Forcing turnovers is not enough on its own—the FBS leader in interceptions last season with 14, Gerod Holliman (Louisville), slipped all the way to the seventh round due to poor physical tests and holes in his game as a tackler. Thompson is far more willing to get involved against the run. He plays at a high speed yet manages to break down and keep ball carriers in front of him.” Burke’s top NFL prospect out of the Mountain West was no surprise, Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins.

Curt Apsey was to start his new job as Boise State athletic director on August 1. That was a Saturday, of course. But don’t be surprised if Apsey motored on into the office Saturday anyway. He got a head start with a video message to Bronco Nation Friday, something that would have been out of the comfort zones of Mark Coyle and Gene Bleymaier. Apsey is going to be out in front when it comes to fan engagement. Think about the landscape at Boise State in 1998, the last time Apsey started a new job there. There was no Caven-Williams Indoor Complex, no Steuckle Sky Center, no Arguinchona Basketball Complex, no Dona Larsen Park, no Bleymaier Football Center, and no DeChevrieaux Field. Apsey played a key role in all those facilities.

It didn’t take long for a Boise State alum to suffer a training camp setback. Cleveland defensive lineman Billy Winn had to be carted off the field Saturday after an apparent right leg injury in practice. It was diagnosed yesterday as an ankle sprain, and the Browns say it will be evaluated on a weekly basis. The injury comes right after coach Mike Pettine praised Winn, who’s going into his fourth season, as one of the team’s emerging players on defense. Fellow former Bronco defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford and Demarcus Lawrence, both of the Dallas Cowboys, can relate. Crawford saw his season end on the first day of training camp in 2013 with an injury, and Lawrence missed half his rookie season last year when he broke his foot early in camp.

A nine-run, 14-hit attack that included two successful double-steals was not enough for the Boise Hawks yesterday. There were five lead changes in the contest against Vancouver, but the Canadians put it away with a seven-spot in the seventh inning. All seven runs were charged to Alec Kenilvort, who saw his season ERA rupture—it’s now 7.03. The Hawks’ two rehab assignees from the Colorado Rockies organization, Ryan Casteel and Forrest Wall, both had strong showings. Casteel was 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Wall was 2-for-2 and scored two runs. The Hawks are off now for the Northwest League All-Star break; they’ll be back in action Thursday night at Hillsboro.

Brian Scott keeps building his track record (pun intended). The Boise NASCAR driver posted his best result in three months and his ninth top 10 result in the Xfinity Series this season with a third-place finish Saturday in the U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway. Scott is ninth in Xfinity standings after 19 starts during the 2015 racing calendar. His winnings now stand at $608,922.

Back to golf: Nampa’s Tyler Aldridge bounced back from a withdrawal last week to finish tied for 11th yesterday at the Web.com Tour’s Utah Championship Lehi. Aldridge moved up six places in the final round with a three-under 69. On the Symetra Tour, Bishop Kelly grad Maddie Sheils tied for fifth yesterday at the Gateway Classic in Mesa, AZ, after a one-under 71 in the final round. Sheils jumped 12 spots on the final leaderboard and posted her third top 10 finish of the season—one of them was her first professional victory in early June.

KTVB.com Mountain West Nugget of the Day: What happens when you’re one of the premier coaches in the FCS, and you flame out in your first FBS gig? If you’re Bobby Hauck, you land a job as special teams coordinator at San Diego State. Hauck was fired at UNLV last December after going 15-49 in five seasons. In seven years at Montana, he went 80-17, won at least a share of the Big Sky championship each season, and made it to three FCS national championship games. Aztecs coach Rocky Long recognized Hauck’s work on special teams, a group he’s coached 21 of the past 22 seasons, and gave him a landing spot.

This Day In Sports…August 3, 1989:

The Cincinnati Reds establish the highest-scoring first inning in Major League history, pushing across 14 runs against the Houston Astros at Riverfront Stadium. The Reds sent a record 20 men to the plate and collected 16 hits. The bottom of the first lasted 38 minutes, with the Reds going on to win the game, 18-2. It was exactly three weeks later that Cincinnati manager Pete Rose was forced out, accepting a permanent place on baseball’s ineligible list.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)