LAS VEGAS – It was a different day and a different round. After that, there weren’t any major changes Saturday from the previous day as the second round of the Southern Highlands Masters played out.
No frost delays this time, but almost identical perfect weather and playing conditions – sunny, little wind and temperatures in the mid-70s.
When the day ended, the same top three teams held their positions on the leaderboard – although the margins spread out – as did the front-running individual.
California, with a 1-under 287, again stood at the top at 3-under 573. Host UNLV, which trailed Cal by a shot after day one, fell to six behind after a 292 for 3-over 579, while Texas A&M, two back after the first 18, remained third, but was seven behind at 580.
UCLA held on to the fourth spot, at 7-over 583, tied with Stanford, which moved up one spot.
Texas Tech’s Logan McCracken’s opening 6-under 66 produced a two-stroke lead, and he kept that margin after shooting even par to stand at 138. UCLA’s Pontus Widegren and Texas A&M’s Ty Dunlap were next at 140.
Coming into the tournament, considered by many as having one of the strongest fields of any regular-season event, California was No. 11 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings with UNLV 11th and Texas A&M 15th.
Of the 15 teams, four rank in the top 5, including No. 1 Texas, which is sixth at Southern Highlands, and 13 are in the top 50.
Once again the Golden Bears proved the best at managing their way around a most demanding Southern Highlands course.
“This golf course is a test in every aspect of mental toughness,” said Cal assistant coach Walter Chun, filling in for head coach Steve Desimone, who is battling severe allergies. “Our guys work hard in school and golf, and I think they’ve shown these last two days how mentally tough they are. When they did make a mistake, they bounced right back.”
Cal has finished in the top five in each of its first seven starts this season, including three victories, which Chun said he hopes will give them a positive frame of mind come Sunday’s final round.
“I think the three wins will help,” Chun said. “They know what they have to do when they have the lead going into the last day. But they know they’ll continue to be tested, not only by this golf course, but by some very, very good times right behind us.”
Early on, McCracken looked as though he might run away with the individual title. He made birdie putts of 2, 4 and 10 feet on holes 2, 3 and 4, respectively, to get to 9 under. But he made bogey at No. 7 and struggled coming in with two more, at Nos. 15 and 17.
No complaining, that’s for sure.
“Even par was pretty good out there today,” said McCracken, a sophomore from Oklahoma City, Okla., who is looking for his first collegiate victory. “It feels good to grind out even par on this course.
“At the start, I hit it close to the hole and made it easy on myself,” he said. “But after that, it was really a grind. I really had to stay focused. I didn’t hit it all that well the back nine. What really pulled me through was I made a pair of 5-foot putts to save par at 10 and 11.
“Tomorrow, I’ve just got to come out here and keep the putter going and keep doing what I’ve been doing,” he said. “I can’t worry about what others are doing, just keep my focus on myself.”