Top teams could miss NCAA match play

Stanford's Steve Ziegler signals after hitting his tee shot at No. 10 left at The Honors Course on Wednesday.

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OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – Stanford’s Steve Ziegler had a good feeling after missing a 2-foot par putt late Wednesday during the second round of the NCAA Championship.

“My bounce-back has been really good this week, so my first thought after I made a bogey on 16 was that I’m pretty much guaranteed a birdie,” Ziegler said. “I had good, positive thoughts.”

Ziegler’s happy thoughts helped him execute clutch shots on his final two holes, and finish off a 71 that helped Stanford stay in contention for a spot in the NCAA Championship’s match-play bracket.

Each stroke is becoming increasingly important as the stroke-play portion of the NCAA Championship nears a conclusion. It’s why coach Conrad Ray gave Ziegler a firm high-five after Ziegler hit his 254-yard second shot onto the green on the par-5 17th. Ziegler two-putted for birdie, then executed a touchy up-and-down from behind the 18th green after hitting his tee shot into the trees and his recovery shot through the green.

The top eight teams will advance to match play after Thursday’s third round, and the Cardinal are among several highly-ranked teams close to the cut line.

When play was called due to darkness Wednesday, No. 3 Washington was tied with No. 14 Clemson for seventh place (1 over par). No. 9 Oregon, the tournament’s top seed, was tied for ninth with Arizona State (2 over), and No. 4 Stanford was tied for 12th with No. 8 UCLA (4 over).

The Pac-10 has eight teams at the NCAA Championship, the most of any conference, but a large part of its contingent could be missing from match play if they don’t play well in the third round.

Oregon shot 294 Wednesday, 10 shots higher than its first round. The Ducks had eight double bogeys on Nos. 8-15, including four from No. 1 player Daniel Miernicki, who shot 80.

“I told them today that we had probably our worst stretch of the year, for about an hour,” Oregon coach Casey Martin said. “We really just played horrible. But I also told them that you’re not going to go through a six-day tournament without a bad stretch, and we just did it. So hopefully we ... recover from it and we don’t do it again.”

Oregon’s Eugene Wong was 5 under par for the tournament, two shots behind leaders Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma State and Henrik Norlander of Augusta State, before making double bogey on No. 18. The Duck said he “duck smother-hooked” his tee shot, then chipped through the fairway, hit another tree with his third shot, reached the green with his fourth shot and two-putted from 20 feet.

“We’re in a dogfight,” Wong said.

After the round, Martin gathered his team and tried to instill confidence with his own comeback tale. He opened the 1994 NCAA Championship with an 80, but shot a second-round 68 to help Stanford to the team championship.

Oregon’s Pacific Northwest rival Washington has been steady, but unspectacular, shooting 289-288 in the first two rounds. The Huskies have had only one round higher than 75 this week, but zero rounds under 70.

UCLA, meanwhile, had to make a comeback just to get near the cutline. The Bruins were tied for 16th after a first-round 294, but shot 2-under 286 Wednesday, led by Gregor Main’s 69. Main, the Bruins’ final player on the course, made birdie on his final hole to provide the Bruins with some momentum.

“We had to play well today to have an opportunity, and now we have that opportunity,” UCLA coach Derek Freeman said. “They know what the stakes are. You have to accept that ... you’re going to have the butterflies.”

Thursday’s third round will be nerve-racking for several highly-ranked teams as they try to keep their national-title hopes alive.

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