PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Texas A&M was the first team to take advantage of the NCAA Championship’s match-play format, winning the 2009 title. The Aggies have been on the wrong side of the cut in the past two national championships, missing match play by the smallest of margins. It will be close again this year after a Thursday morning charge.
The Aggies matched the week’s low round with a 1-over 285 Thursday morning at Riviera Country Club. They finished at 27-over 879, the best score among the 15 teams that competed in the morning wave (the top 15 teams after Wednesday’s second round teed off Thursday afternoon). Texas A&M’s round gave it an outside chance of making match play.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Texas A&M head coach J.T. Higgins. “That’s what we challenged them to do, to fight for every shot and play with a lot of pride.”
The top eight teams after Thursday advance to match play, which begins Friday. The cut line to make the match-play bracket was 16 over at the beginning of the day. The Aggies’ chances of making the eight-team bracket were hurt by a poor finish to the second round; the team’s four scorers played the final six holes Wednesday in 10 over.
The Aggies were in 16th place when they competed Thursday’s round but will move up the leaderboard this afternoon as teams face Riviera’s myriad challenges. There hasn’t been a sub-par team round this week.
No one on Texas A&M shot worse than 73 Thursday. Geoff Shaw shot 70, Tyler Dunlap shot 71, Jordan Russell and Johannes Veerman shot 72 and Greg Yates shot 73. The Aggies’ final two players on the course – Shaw and Dunlap – made par putts of 10 and 15 feet, respectively.
“Those might be the difference makers,” Shaw said.
Higgins estimated the cut would fall at 22 over at day’s end. “We’re going to be close,” Shaw said. “If the conditions get tough, if some teams get a little choked up, it might be 27 (over par).”
The afternoon has been the tougher half of the draw all week because of wind, firm Poa annua greens that get bumpy in the afternoon and tough hole locations. The only thing working against Texas A&M is the number of teams that stand between the Aggies and the top eight. It’s a tightly-packed leaderboard at Riviera. Only eight strokes separated fourth place from 18th place at the beginning of the day.
Texas A&M missed match play by three strokes in 2010 and one stroke last year.