UCLA closing in on title defense at U.S. Collegiate

UCLA head coach Derek Freeman

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1Casey FernandezSo. Miss.  66.31 
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5Maverick McNealyStanford  67.32 

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Check out LIVE coverage of today's final round at the U.S. Collegiate here.

• • •

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – UCLA returned to this year’s U.S. Collegiate Championship for a title defense, and after two rounds, the Bruins are again at the top of the leaderboard.

The thought would be there’s something about the Golf Club of Georgia’s Lakeside course that appeals to the UCLA players. The only problem is, none of the five Bruins in the lineup this week was here a year ago.

With a tournament-best 5-under 283 Saturday, UCLA surged from a tie for sixth after the first round, and at 4-over 580 holds a two-stroke lead over host Georgia Tech, which shot 3-over 291 on Saturday.

First-round leader USC limped in with an 11-over 299 and is tied for third with Oklahoma State (295) at 12-over 588. Those teams are one stroke better than Virginia (294). Clemson, with three freshmen in the lineup, shot 289 and is sixth in the 15-team field at 14-over 590.

Oklahoma State junior Talor Gooch followed his opening 68 with a 71 to maintain his spot at the top of the individual race. He is at 5-under 139 for the tournament.

“For whatever reason, our guys love this golf course and love everything about this event,” UCLA coach Derek Freeman said. “I think we did a good job of game planning coming into it, and the guys executed it well.”

“We got off to a solid start and then were able to keep things pretty steady,” Freeman said. “Yesterday (297), we struck the ball well but had trouble with our short game. We focused on that and worked on that after our round yesterday, and I think it paid off today. We were much better on and around the greens.”

Georgia Tech shook off a rough start with a strong stretch from Nos. 7-11 and hung on to stay within striking distance in hopes of matching its 2010 U.S. Collegiate victory.

“We got off to a horrible start and then played really well on Nos. 7 through 11,” said Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler, whose Yellow Jackets notched nine birdies in that five-hole stretch. “We had a couple of mistakes coming in and threw away a few at the end, but overall I’m pleased with the way the guys hung in there today.”

Leading that five-hole surge was Michael Hines, who finished with a 1-under 71 with birdies at 7, 8, 9 and 11.

“He was 3 over after six holes and then played the rest in 4 under,” Heppler said. “I’d say that’s pretty sporty for a freshman. He pretty much saved our day today, he and Richy Werenski (who led Tech with a 3-under 69). I think it’s really going to be fun and exciting tomorrow.”

Playing in his first tournament of the season, Gooch got to 6 under with birdies at the first and ninth holes, both par 5s. He extended his lead with a birdie at No. 11, but dropped back to the field with three-putt bogeys at 13 and 14. He had another three-putt at the par-5 18th to make par.

“Except for three 3-putts, I played well today,” Gooch said. “I really had a good chance today to shoot another good number. If I play tee to green tomorrow like I have the last two days, I have a chance to make something happen.”

Gooch takes a two-shot lead into the final 18 holes over Anton Arboleda of UCLA and Michael Johnson of Auburn, who stand at 3-under 141. Arboleda shot 71 Saturday while Johnson came in with 72.

Stanford sophomore Patrick Rodgers, a member of the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team, got it to 4 under for the tournament before slipping back with an even-par 72 and is at 2-under 142. Four players are tied for fifth at 1-under 143.

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