Cal men take lead at Southern Highlands
LAS VEGAS - Coming into this year’s Southern Highlands Masters, there were a number of teams that could be considered as tournament favorites.
At No. 10 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, California, to many, was at best on the bubble of such a list.
But after an opening 2-under 286, the Golden Bears sit atop a 15-team tournament field that includes four of the nation’s top five teams and 13 of the top 50.
Logan McCracken, a sophomore at Texas Tech, shot his best round of the season and took the individual lead with a 6-under 66 at the demanding Southern Hills Golf Club course.
The opening round was delayed an hour at the start due to frost, but once that cleared it turned out to be a picture-perfect day for golf. Sunshine, temperatures in the mid-70s and - most importantly - no wind.
Still, scores remained in check. Besides California, only host UNLV shot under par, with a 287. Texas A&M came in at even par, UCLA at 3-over 291, and Stanford, top-ranked Texas and No. 2 Alabama at 5-over 293.
In addition to McCracken, only four other players shot in the 60s with Bobby Wyatt of Alabama and Tyler Dunlap of Texas A&M posting 68 and Florida’s T.J. Vogel and UCLA’s Pontus Widegren at 69.
There were 18 scores under par, with nine of those tying for 10th place, at 1-under 71.
“This was a perfect day for golf. You couldn’t ask for better,” UNLV coach Dwaine Knight said. “Still, only two teams broke par, and there weren’t that many really low individual scores. That just goes to show you how difficult this course is.”
California, which is seven-for-seven in top-5 finishes, including three victories this season, showed why patience is a friend and panic an enemy at Southern Highlands.
Top to bottom, the Golden Bears were steady and kept things under control. Max Homa and Joel Salter led Cal with 71s, while Brandon Hagy and Keelan Kilpatrick each shot 72. Even the “throw out” score from Michael Kim was a solid 74.
“I’m proud of the way the guys kept things under control,” Cal coach Steve Desimone said. “We knew that even with ideal conditions, this course can eat your lunch and can really send you spinning. But they hung in there, and now we’re off to a good, solid start.”
Knight felt much the same way about the way his Rebels performed.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get going when you’re the home team and you have a lot of people out there watching you,” Knight said. “We played solid, and I think the guys will be in a better groove now and have a game charge.”
McCracken got on a roll early and pretty much kept it going the rest of the way. He birdied his opening hole, No. 10, then sank a 30-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 13th.
Although he followed with a bogey at the 14th, McCracken closed his opening nine with birdies at 16 and 18.
His only other bogey came at No. 1, but he came right back and birdied Nos. 2, 6 and 9.
“I finally got the putter to work today,” said McCracken, who played the four par-5 holes in 4 under. “I hit it well enough and chipped well enough, but it was the putter that did it.
“For the most part, I was able to hit the ball close to the hole and make some good putts,” McCracken said. “Right now, it’s a pretty good feeling to be able to come in here and put together a good round on a very tough course and against some of the best players in the country.”