Events to watch: Southern Highlands, Hackler

This is a full, loaded week in college golf, so here are three events to keep a close eye on for different reasons.

Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters

Date: March 11-13

Field: Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, California, Duke, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, USC, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, UCLA, and UNLV

The Scoop: This event is loaded with storylines, and it’s tough to decide just where to begin. Let’s start with the quality of the field, which will have six teams ranked in the top 13 of the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. Top-ranked Oklahoma State is in the field, along with UCLA, which has been ranked No. 1 at a few different times this season. Also interesting to note: Since 2005, only two teams have won this event, UNLV and UCLA. UNLV has won this event the past three years, but shared the trophy last year with the Bruins. Many people say that Florida has the best home-course advantage in college golf, but the SH Collegiate Masters always has one of the toughest fields in the country, and the Rebels continue to find a way to win. This year, UNLV enters the tournament as a heavy underdog, ranked 56th in the country. Half of this field is very top-heavy, with several teams hoping to make a splash with a strong finish. The lowest-ranked team in the field is Arizona, at No. 73, and the Wildcats can’t afford a poor performance because their record currently stands at 35-41-2.

Wildman’s Pick: UCLA. It’s hard to go against one of the only two teams to win this tournament in the past five years. UCLA has been No. 1 in the rankings this season and has earned the right to be called the top team in the country. UCLA is led by player-of-the-year candidate Patrick Cantlay, and the Bruins will be looking for their fourth team title of the season. Either way, you can expect a strong showing by the Bruins, who have not finished worse than third this season.

• • •

General Hackler Championship

Date: March 13- March 14

Field: Auburn, Augusta State, Charleston Southern, College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, East Tennessee State, Gardner-Webb, Lamar, North Florida, Pepperdine, Presbyterian College, Tennessee, USC Upstate, Virginia, Wake Forest, Western Carolina

The Scoop: For some teams in this field, it’s time to hit the panic button in terms of the .500 rule. Host Coastal Carolina is ranked 58th in the country, but comes into its own event with a head-to-head record of 36-42. Tennessee will enter the Hackler ranked 38th in the country, but can’t afford a poor finish itself with a current record of 34-43-3. ETSU, which is no stranger to the postseason, is in do-or-die mode with a ranking of 90 and a head-to-head record of 18-59. What’s more alarming for coach Fred Warren’s team is that his Bucs are only 8-59 vs. teams ranked in the top 100. Auburn and defending NCAA champion Augusta State are the top two teams in the field and will be tough to beat. Auburn has been looking like a national contender, and the Jaguars are anxiously waiting to defend their crown.

Wildman’s Pick: Augusta State. It’s hard to believe that the Jags have yet to win this year. Augusta State was DQ’d from its last event of the fall, the Gifford Collegiate Championship, because Patrick Reed WD’d with a wrist injury and Carter Newman was DQ’d for signing an incorrect scorecard. The Jags have had two runner-up finishes this year, but are coming off a third-place finish at the Battle at the Beach. Will this be the week the defending champs add another piece of hardware to their trophy case? I think so.

• • •

Pinehurst Intercollegiate by Gatorade

Date: March 11- March 13

Field: Belmont, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Francis Marion, Marshall, Michigan State, UNC-Wilmington, Old Dominion, Penn State, Radford, Richmond, UNC-Greensboro, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Tech, Western Illinois, Xavier

The Scoop: This tournament will be a blast to watch because the top-ranked teams are going to feel like they’re walking on egg shells, where as the lower-ranked teams have nothing to lose. Virginia Tech is ranked 45th, followed by UNC-Wilmington (47), Penn State (62) and UNC-Greensboro (78). If one of those teams have a poor finish here, it could be a crushing blow to their ranking and their chances at the postseason. Of the 16 teams in the field, 10 are ranked 108th or worse. Six teams in the field are ranked 169th or worse. Pressure will be on teams like Xavier (79) and Richmond (80) to play well early so they can avoid the pressure of a poor finish. Just because this tournament doesn’t have the marquee names doesn’t mean it won’t have intrigue and suspense with teams in the field. This tournament will have coaches on edge all three rounds, and that includes all coaches from top to bottom.

Wildman’s Pick: Richmond. This tournament is an enormous opportunity for a team like Richmond, which has a Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking of 80th. This season Richmond has zero finishes outside the top 5 and are coming off a third-place showing at the Wexford Intercollegiate, which kicked off its spring season. The Spiders can’t afford a poor finish here, but I’m thinking Richmond earns a victory to help their ranking and, more importantly postseason resume.

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