PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Alabama, behind star freshman Justin Thomas, struck first at the NCAA Men’s Championship on Tuesday. The Crimson Tide built a three-shot advantage in the first round at Riviera Country Club.
Will the Pac-12 – which currently has only one representative (UCLA) in the top eight spots on the leaderboard – perform better on Wednesday? Will an unexpected team like Central Florida or East Carolina make a run?
With four of our college experts on the ground in Southern California, each will keep you up-to-date with blogs, commentary and things to look out for throughout the day.
And off we go!
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Update #20: 9:08 p.m. EDT
Riviera didn’t just wreak havoc in the morning, but it also caught up with the afternoon wave.
With a handful of teams left on the course, many of the “favorites” have moved back into contention due to high scores from the teams playing in the afternoon.
UCF – which once held the lead on Day 2 – is now 14 over on its round and fallen back to 18th place. Meanwhile, the best score from the afternoon is Illinois’ 5 over, although they still have a pair of holes left.
Oklahoma is the only team that has held steady enough to stay in the top eight, holding solo third place at 11 over (6 over for the day).
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Update #19: 8:08 p.m. EDT
From Sean Martin: Illinois’ Thomas Pieters is 5 under par through 28 holes and holds the lead in the NCAA Championship’s individual race. There’s a lot of golf left, but if Pieters were to win, he’d be the second Illini to win the national championship in the past three years. Scott Langley won the NCAA title in 2010 at The Honors Course. Pieters won earlier this season at Jack’s Place, Muirfield Village. Now he’s trying to win at Hogan’s Alley. Pieters shot 69 Tuesday and is 3 under par through 10 holes today. He’s two shots clear of the field.
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Update #18: 7:58 p.m. EDT
Oklahoma, Florida State and UCLA (already in) are all tied for second at 8 over. Washington, in the clubhouse, sits at eighth at 14 over, while Iowa, and Kent State, each with the back nine to finish up, are tied for ninth at 15 over.
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Update #17: 7:40 p.m. EDT
Oklahoma’s now tied for third with UCLA, four shots behind Alabama at 8 over. Illinois takes fifth after dropping to 13 over. Meanwhile, Florida State is second after dropping to 6 over.
With the back nine still left to play, Illinois’ Thomas Pieters, at 4 under, has a one-shot individual lead.
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Update #16: 7:20 p.m. EDT
Florida State falls back to 9 over and into a share of forth with Iowa, while Oklahoma’s three shots behind leader Alabama, at 7 over for the tournament, 2 over on the day. UCLA finishes round 2 at 8 over, currently in third place.
With the back nine left to play, Illinois is 13 over, tied for eighth with Florida, which is already in the clubhouse.
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Update #15: 6:58 p.m. EDT
Central Florida, with several holes left to play, is three strokes behind leader Alabama, at 7 over for the tournament. Florida State’s just one shot back at 8 over.
Four players are tied for first at 3 under: Greg Eason of Central Florida, Florida’s Tyler McCumber, Illinois’ Thomas Pieters and UCLA’s Anton Arboleda, who’s already in the clubhouse after round 2.
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Update #14: 6:22 p.m. EDT
From Sean Martin: Washington and USC shot the lowest scores in Wednesday’s morning wave with 2-over 286s. Washington’s four scorers played the back nine in 3 under and all birdied the par-5 17th. Chris Williams did so by knocking a wedge shot out of a divot to 6 feet. Washington also played the difficult 18th hole in even par.
The day reminded Washington head coach Matt Thurmond of the 2005 NCAA Championship in Maryland, when the Huskies started the third round in fifth place, had fallen to 28th place by the turn, only to return to fifth at day’s end.
“I remember looking at my phone and thinking that people in Seattle are just waking up and we’re in 28th place,” Thurmond said. About today’s round, Thurmond said, “The big thing wasn’t 10 and 11 where you can make your birdies, it was 12 and 13 where teams are making bogeys and doubles and we played them (even) par. That was huge. We did everything we needed to do.”
The Huskies were headed from Riviera to Anaheim to watch the Angels play the Yankees.
USC was led by a 69 from Sam Smith, a 10-shot improvement from the first round. Jeffrey Kang shot 71 for the Trojans.
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Update #14: 6:17 p.m. EDT
From Sean Martin: Chase Marinell’s teammates call him “The Robot” because of how straight he hits the ball. It’s the type of game that’s perfect for a major-championship venue like Riviera. “The Robot” is living up to his reputation at Riviera. He’s 1 under par after 36 holes after shooting 71-70 to lead little Liberty into contention.
“He hits it so good every time,” Liberty head coach Jeff Thomas said. “The tighter the course, the better for him. You can’t fake it when the greens are this firm.”
Liberty is making its first NCAA Championship appearance in school history. Making it this far is “icing on the cake,” Marinell said, in a historic season that saw the Flames also claim the first regional title in school history. Liberty, which won three consecutive events leading into the NCAA Championship, is contending to make match play.
The Flames, No. 29 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, shot 4-over 288 Wednesday and are in fifth place among the 15 teams that have competed 36 holes. They’ve won their last three starts – at the River Landing Intercollegiate, the Big South Conference Championship and NCAA East Regional.
“It gave us so much confidence,” Marinell said of the regional victory, the first by a Big South Conference school. “It showed us that we’re not just a small school anymore. We can take these big boys. We can beat the Auburns and Floridas of the world.”
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Update #13: 5:22 p.m. EDT
After back-to-back titles for tiny Augusta State, all it takes is for an upstart team to get to match play and then it is really anyone’s game.
UCF might fill that bill and the Knights are making an early run at Riviera, taking over the top spot on the leaderboard, going 5 under through the first handful of holes. There is plenty of golf left to be played, but taking advantage of Riviera where you can is a good sign for UCF.
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Update #12: 4:52 p.m. EDT
Host USC might have some work to do on Thursday if it will make the match-play portion of the Championship, firing a 2-over 286 to currently sit at T-19. Thought to have home-course advantage at Riviera, USC only has two players in the top 60 (Steve Lim and Jeffrey Kang are T-60 at 4 over).
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Update #11: 4:15 p.m. EDT
From Sean Martin: It was a tough day for Texas, which shot 11-over 295, but there were a couple of highlights for the Longhorns. Dylan Frittelli holed an 8-iron from 182 yards to make eagle on the par-5 18th. Meanwhile, teammate Toni Hakula holed a 7-iron from 164 yards for an ace at the par-3 sixth.
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Update #10: 4:12 p.m. EDT
Alabama freshman Justin Thomas fired a second-straight, 1-under 70 to sit two shots behind individual leader Patrick Rodgers of Stanford. Rodgers is currently on the 16th hole, 2 under on the day and 4 under for the tournament.
Overnight leader Anton Arboleda followed is 4-under 67 with a 1-over 72 to put the UCLA star in a tie for second with Florida’s Tyler McCumber.
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Update #9: 4:05 p.m. EDT
The morning wave is coming down the final stretch, with one of the pre-tournament favorites California finishing poorly and carding a 5-over round that had them drop to 22nd place.
Overnight leaders Alabama finished its round at 3 over and T-1 (with Florida) at 4 over overall. Meanwhile, UCLA is on its last two holes and is at 2 over for the day and 7 over for the tournament.
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Update #8: 2:58 p.m. EDT
From Lance Ringler: Florida State’s Jaoquin Lolas posted an even-par 71 in the opening round. Lolas tied teammate Brooks Koepka for low round of the day. It was Lolas’ first competitive round since the Seminole Intercollegiate in March. Lolas is replacing Doug Letson in the lineup. Letson was injured last week in a weight lifting accident. Lolas defeated Kyle Cobb in a playoff to earn the No. 5 spot in the Florida State lineup. Can Lolas continue this effort and lead the Seminoles into match play for the second time in past three years? Florida State was T-6 after Round 1 and tees off at 3:20 p.m. EDT off No. 10 at Riviera Country Club.
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Update #7: 2:55 p.m. EDT
From Ron Balicki: Texas freshman Jordan Spieth, the No. 1 player in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, looked as though he was ready to get things kicked in. After an opening round 2-over 73, Spieth quickly got it back to even par with birdies at Nos. 2 and 3 in Wednesday morning’s second round.
He made a bogey at No. 6, but still remained in good shape as he headed into Riviera Country Club’s back nine. Then it became a cluster of problems, mistakes and errant shots.
He made triple-bogey (no misprint, here) at the short, 315-yard, par-4 10th hole and followed with a double bogey at the par-5 11th. Guess you can say he continued to improve, but not is his customary manner as he added a bogey at No. 12, meaning he played that three-hole stretch in 6 over.
That sent him plummeting into a tie for 118th at 7 over after starting the round tied for 46th.
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Update #6: 2:25 p.m. EDT
The scores aren’t getting any better at Riviera, as Auburn has dropped from T-2 to T-22, going 11 over just over halfway through its second round. The Tigers aren’t the only ones struggling, with Stanford and North Florida both 7 over and Texas at 6 over for the day.
With the scoring conditions more favorable in the morning, there is a good chance that these teams will climb back up the leaderboard without doing anything this afternoon.
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Update #5: 2:05 p.m. EDT
From Sean Martin: Nos. 11, 12 and 13 at Riviera play through eucalyptus-lined chutes. It’s not uncommon for players’ tee shots to crash into trees some 150 yards off the tee, forcing fans to scurry and leaving fairway woods into par-4s.
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Update #4: 1:50 p.m. EDT
From Sean Martin: Texas star Jordan Spieth has had bunker problems the past two holes. He hit his approach shot into a green-side bunker on No. 10 and made a one-putt 7. His wedge shot on the par-5 11th came up short in another greenside bunker, resulting in a three-putt double. That’s 5 over in two holes.
From Ryan Lavner: A couple of big-name teams need to turn it around quickly before the final round on Thursday. Stanford, Washington, Texas and Auburn all haven’t cracked the top 10 yet. Like yesterday, easier scoring conditions in the morning. Poa annua greens will get crusty by the afternoon, firmer because of the wind.
From Sean Martin: A couple of fashion statements are being made in the second round of the NCAA Championship. UCLA is sporting blue plaid pants with white shirts. Oregon is going with black-on-black with white belts.
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Update #3: 1:35 p.m. EDT
Where, oh where, is Texas? The top-ranked Longhorns are struggling about midway through their second round at Riviera, falling to a share of 12th place at 11 over (5 over for today).
Scores are not especially pretty in the morning way, including Auburn falling from T-2 to T-12 midway through its round, sitting at 7 over for the day thus far.
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Update #2: 1:20 p.m. EDT
Alabama’s Justin Thomas is at it again. Thomas, No. 2 in the nation, birdied No. 8 to get to 3 under par for the day and 4 under par for the tournament. He’s in the lead, one shot ahead of UCLA’s Anton Arboleda, the 18-hole leader after shooting 67, and Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers.
Thomas has four victories this season, including the SEC Championship and NCAA Southeast Regional. A victory here would seem to lock up player-of-the-year honors for the freshman. Rodgers, No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings has won twice this season, at the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational and the Western Intercollegiate. He was a member of last year’s Walker Cup team. Sean Martin detailed Thomas’ upbringing around the game in a recent feature.
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Update #1: 1:15 p.m. EDT
A couple things to pay attention to as you watch live scoring today:
• The Round 1 scoring average was 74.54. No teams shot par or better yesterday. Twenty-six individuals shot par or better, though.
• Riviera’s easiest hole? The 503-yard, par-5 first, which played to a 4.46 scoring average. There were more birdies (81) than pars (56), more eagles (9) than bogeys. Players face Riviera’s toughest hole on the next tee, though. Even though No. 2 is a par-4, players had a higher stroke average (4.63 strokes) than on the par-5 first hole.
• Only three holes played under par in the first round, and all were par-5s: Nos. 1 (4.46), 11 (4.70) and 17 (4.80).
• No. 17 is a nice respite in a tough finishing stretch. Nos. 13-15 all played .29 strokes over par. The 16th played .31 strokes over par and the famed, uphill par-4 18th played .33 strokes over par, the fifth-hardest hole of the first round.