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Team leader: Arkansas, Oklahoma State (17-under 559)
Individual leader: Hunter Kraus, Missouri (7-under 137)
In position: 3. Missouri (561); 4. LSU (575); 5. Arizona State (575)
Chasing: 6. Iowa State (579); 7. San Diego State (582); 8. Iowa (585); 9. Virginia (588)
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PLAYING TO WIN, NOT JUST SURVIVE: Arkansas hasn’t missed an NCAA regional in seven years – in other words, since head coach Brad McMakin arrived. The weekend has ended about every way possible. Since regional fields were reduced from 27 teams in 2009, the Razorbacks have advanced three times – in 2009, ’11 and ’13 (they were runner-up at the 2009 NCAA Championship). They missed by four in 2010 and came three shots short in 2012.
Regionals are rarely comfortable, and no team should know it better than Arkansas. McMakin’s squad, however, took as much pressure as possible off themselves and their coach on Friday with a second-round 18-under 270 at The Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Mo.
Arkansas’ second round was at least 10 shots better than any other team in the field, and was 17 shots better than first-round leader Oklahoma State. It erased the Razorbacks’ deficit, and moved them into a tie for first with the Cowboys. They’re now 17 shots above the fifth spot on the leaderboard, and in a position to try to win, not just hold on.
“We try to win every tournament we play in,” McMakin said. “… I think that would give us a lot of confidence going into the national championship.”
Arkansas was No. 10 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, but entered regionals ranked No. 23 and took the No. 4 seed in Columbia. Senior Sebastian Cappelen was a key returner, but while the Razorbacks won twice, they also battled inconsistency. That comes, understandably, from youth.
“We do have a lot of explosiveness, but we have three sophomores and a freshman,” McMakin said. “I think that’s where the inconsistency comes from, and we’re trying to speed up that process. We’re trying to get our bad a little bit better.”
Arkansas has struggled this year with putting three consistent rounds together. On Friday, at least one Razorback made birdie on 15 of 18 holes at Old Hawthorne. The team counted three rounds of 67, a 69 and threw out a 73.
“That’s what you look for, you look for consistency,” McMakin said.
At the most crucial point in the season, Arkansas is not just good on paper. It’s good under pressure.
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FIVE FOR TWO: After Day 2 of regionals, 14 shots separate the third and fourth position on the leaderboard. From there, five teams – LSU, Arizona State, Iowa State, San Diego State and Iowa – are within 10 shots of each other. That sets up a shoot-out for the final 18 holes in Columbia.
“There’s two spots still available,” Arizona State head coach Tim Mickelson said from the fifth position on the leaderboard. “Those other three teams have pretty much solidified their position. The teams behind us are going to try to make some birdies early and put pressure on us.”
A year ago, playing in the Tempe, Ariz., regional, the Sun Devils also played their way into fifth on Day 2, then kept it on Day 3. The strategy stays the same for Arizona State, and Mickelson will communicate to his players if there’s a need for an eleventh-hour charge.
“We’ll let them know and expect them to adjust,” he said.
Iowa State, meanwhile, is four shots back of the Sun Devils. Head coach Andrew Tank says his team is happy with the position, and happy to be in the mix.
“That’s really all you can ask for,” he said. “Tomorrow just need to go out and play our games and see what happens.”
The Cyclones are playing an NCAA regional for the eighth time in program history, and the first time since 2012. Back then, Tank and his team were just happy to be there. This year, from the No. 9 seed, Iowa State players discussed among themselves their very real shot at advancing to the national championship.
“Two years ago . . . there was kind of a feeling of OK, we didn’t really need to do anything that amazing to qualify,” Tank said. “We realized it was kind of within reach.”
With standout freshman Nick Voke at home injured, freshman Ruben Sondjaja (T-13) and junior Scott Fernandez (T-16) have carried the Cyclone torch, but redshirt sophomore Collin Foster has been most crucial in Columbia. Foster has been in the No. 5 position most of the season, but was called upon this week to submit a solid fourth and final score for Iowa State. His opening rounds of 75-73 have allowed Iowa State to stay in the conversation.
“We’ll need him to play well tomorrow,” Tank said.
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SHORT SHOTS: Play was postponed for a hour on Friday morning because of frost. Weather also plagued Columbia during Round 1, as the entire field was hauled off the course mid-afternoon when lightning was spotted in the area. . . . Oklahoma State’s Jordan Niebrugge, who opened with 7-under 65 on Thursday, came back with a 73 in Round 2. Niebrugge is third individually. . . . Only four teams in the 14-team field failed to improve their score from Round 1 to Round 2. The scoring average for the entire field fell from 74.72 to 73.85. . . . Host Missouri, seeded No. 8, kept pace on Friday with a 1-under 287. The Tigers are looking for their first national-championship berth since 2005.