Wrong Ron makes his infamous NCAA pick
Wow! Is it that time of the year again? It seems like it was only a short time ago I was picking Georgia (again) to win the 2009 NCAA Championship.
Now here we are and it’s time for Wrong Ron to get the drum roll and pick the winner of the 2010 NCAAs, which will be played June 1-6 at The Honors Course just outside Chattanooga, Tenn.
Well, one thing is certain. I won’t be going with the Bulldogs of Georgia. That’s because for the first time since the 1996-97 season – current coach Chris Haack’s initial campaign – Georgia is not in the 30-team finals field. The Bulldogs almost made it, rallying the final round at the NCAA South Central Regional, but losing on the first hole of a playoff to Baylor for the fifth and final qualifying spot from that event.
Even without Georgia, there are plenty of worthy teams to consider as strong possibilities to win the championship, which for the second consecutive year will be determined in a stroke play (54 holes)/match play (top 8 stroke play teams) format.
So who are my leading candidates to come away with that national championship trophy on the Sunday afternoon of June 6?
Let’s start with the defending champion, Texas A&M. The Aggies certainly have what it takes to become the first team since Houston in 1984-85 (that’s like a quarter century ago) to win back-to-back titles.
Coach J.T. Higgins’ Aggies have not finished out of the top five all season long, have three victories, lost another tournament in a playoff, and come to the Honors on the heels of second-place showings at the Big 12 Conference and South Central Regional championships.
Texas A&M is solid 1-5, no matter which five Higgins brings in, and like the veteran coach told me after the regional, “I feel we have as strong as a lineup top to bottom as anyone in the country, and if we get into match play, I think we can be dangerous.”
I agree. However, since J.T.’s wife Julie has threatened me with serious bodily harm if I pick the Aggies (obviously she’s aware of the Wrong Ron curse), I’m going to have to pass.
Then there’s Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have been ranked No. 1 all season long and without a doubt have a power-packed lineup. They won two tournaments in the fall and three this spring, including their past two: at the Big 12 Conference and Southwest Regional.
Coach Mike McGraw’s squad did, however, encounter a few bumps this spring, finishing 11th at UNLV’s Southern Highlands event and ninth at the Morris Williams.
And, there’s no doubt the Cowboys learned a lesson at last year’s NCAA finals. Oklahoma State finished the opening 54 holes of stroke play in first place – by 13 shots – and there’s no doubt in my mind if it were the former 72-hole stroke-play championship, the Cowboys would have left town with the program’s 11th national championship trophy.
But OSU lost in the opening round of match play to a top-ranked Georgia team in one of the most exciting matches of the event when Brian Harman sank a 10-foot putt on the final hole to beat Rickie Fowler, 1-up.
The Cowboys definitely have what it takes to get No. 11 and give McGraw national championship No. 2.
Then there’s the West Coast entourage, in particular the Pac-10 Conference, which has eight teams among the 30. The top three – Stanford, Oregon and Washington – will be in the title race mix, for sure.
Can a team/individual from the west win in the east at the Honors Course?
Consider this. Mitch Voges (California) won the U.S. Amateur there in 1991. Arizona State captured the NCAA title on this layout in 1996 with Tiger Woods (California) taking the individual crown. Kevin Marsh (Las Vegas and former Pepperdine player) won the U.S. Mid-Amateur there in 2005 and two years later, the West team beat the East 27-23 in the AJGA’s annual Canon Cup.
Stanford has been ranked among the top five throughout the season – No. 2 the majority of the time – and appears primed to win its second NCAA title in four years. In fact, this year’s edition of the Cardinal might even be a little stronger top to bottom than the one that captured the title in 2007 in Williamsburg, Va., or the one that finished second by a stroke in ‘08 at Purdue.
Coach Conrad Ray’s team has won three times this season and comes to the Honors Course fresh off a second place at the Pac-10 and four-stroke victory at the Central Regional.
At Oregon, coach Casey Martin certainly has all his Ducks in a row and will enter the finals as the overall No. 1 seed.
Without a doubt, this has been the best season ever for the Oregon men’s program. Only once in 14 starts have the Ducks finished outside the top five – a T6 at the Pac-10s – and have posted five victories, including winning the Southwest Regional by 10 shots. They also have three seconds and a trio of thirds.
It would come as no surprise if any of the four teams aforementioned celebrated into the summer.
But they won’t. (Is that a huge sigh of relieve I just heard?)
Washington will be leaving Chattanooga with the main piece of NCAA Championship hardware. (Sorry, guys!)
The Huskies were my preseason pick and I’m sticking to it.
Coach Matt Thurmond always seems to have his squad playing at its peak come postseason time and this year might be different only in the fact that the Huskies have been even more impressive.
With a closing round of 2-under par, Washington overcame a seven-shot deficit and won the Pac-10 title by three strokes over Stanford.
And last week, the Huskies totally blew away the field at the West Regional. Sure, they were playing with a home course (Gold Mountain GC) edge, but still . . . they shot 20 under and outdistanced USC by 29 shots.
Earlier this spring, Washington won the Arizona State Thunderbird, coming back the last day from seventh place and 16 shots behind to post a two-stroke victory.
The Huskies are led by senior Nick Taylor, recent recipient of the 2010 Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s most outstanding college and amateur player. Taylor, along with Charlie Hughes, tied for 19th at the West Regional as their other three teammates took center stage.
Richard Lee was medalist with an 8-under 208, while Chris Williams finished second at 210 and Darren Wallace tied for third at 211.
Okay, I will admit, I have been wrong in picking the winner of the NCAA Championship from time to time. Actually, I haven’t been right too often considering that in some 25 years of doing so I’ve only got it right three times – 1995 with Oklahoma State, 1998 with UNLV and 2003 with Clemson.
Still, I just know that Thurmond and Co. are going to give me No. 4 this time around.
You go get ‘em Huskies!