Ringler: What we learned Tuesday at NCAAs
Round 1 at the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship is in the books and, oh, boy, what a ride this is going to be. This week is a long six days of competition, and the tension is going to build until Thursday afternoon when only eight teams can advance to match play. Then it starts all over again for those squads, because only one very good - and lucky - team will hold the trophy on Sunday afternoon.
NCAA Men's Championship: Round 1
View images from Round 1 at the 2012 NCAA Championship at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Riviera Country Club is a great venue for this championship, maybe the best I have seen. A few things were made clear during the opening round, but there still are a few questions...
• I know this venue has everyone talking. Riviera is the first thing that comes up at the start of every conversation. But it also might provide the most exciting Thursday college golf fans have ever witnessed. This course is one that produces about two birdies and four or five bogeys for any given round. The setup does not appear to be the best at providing separation that you might be used to seeing, so there could be a number of teams in the hunt for a top-8 spot. Just look at the standings after the first round: 18 teams separated by seven shots trailing leader Alabama.
• I know Texas has been the top team in college golf if you look at the entire season... but in no way can Texas match how Alabama is playing. Alabama has won five times in seven starts this spring. Entering the week, the Crimson Tide are unquestionably the hottest team in college golf and made a late-round run to grab the 18-hole lead.
• I know Florida's Buddy Alexander is well-respected amongst his peers and thought of as a master of his craft. I also know that his teams - which have advanced to 12 consecutive NCAA finals, the longest active streak - have yet to be a factor under the match-play format. That might change this year. The Gators owned the top round in the morning wave with a 4-over 288 and finished the day T-2.
• I know I often get a poke here and a poke there about touting Iowa head coach Mark Hankins as one of the best in the business, but doesn’t he prove the mentions are worthy time and time again? The Hawkeyes, who played in the morning wave, posted the third-best score of the morning with a 6-over 290 and are inside the top 8 after the first round. And when you consider Iowa has three newcomers to the lineup, it is impressive.
• I know Liberty, North Florida, Central Florida, East Carolina and Chattanooga are very good golf teams. I also know they are good enough to win this championship in this format. Is match play the best way to decide a national champion? Of course not. Stroke play is the answer to that question. However, this format has proved in just three short years to be much more exciting and provide a more memorable week.
• I know the players competing this week expected the kikuyu grass to be more of a challenge, but it appears to be manageable at this point. Maybe a few days of leaving the rough mower in the parking lot will change that.
• I don’t know if a Conference USA team will make the match-play portion of this championship. C-USA fielded the second-most teams (behind the Pac-12’s six), with five: Tulsa, Memphis, Alabama-Birmingham, East Carolina and Central Florida. The Knights are off to the best start and are inside the top 8 after Round 1. The others have work to do.
• I don’t know what to think about USC’s 14-over total. The Trojans, along with UCLA, have what many figured to be a huge advantage playing on what could be called a home course. But USC struggled and now is eight shots from the current eighth-place number. It’s just one round, and eight strokes is not a lot. However, it’s not the number of strokes but the number of teams USC will have to get past that could be the problem.
• I don’t know what to think about the Pac-12’s performance today. Just one team – UCLA – is inside the top 8. The course must not be set up all that badly for the strangers from east of the Mississippi.
• I don’t know which player is the best in college golf. There may be more players in the mix than any other year I can recall. The frontrunners are Jordan Spieth of Texas and Alabama’s Justin Thomas, but it may be safe to say that if any of the next 11 guys in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings were to win this week, a case could be made for the winner as top player.
• I don’t know if we will see a score better than 4-under 67, which was recorded by UCLA sophomore Anton Arboleda. And I don’t know if we will see a score higher than 83, which was the worst round posted today.
And one more thing: If there is something that you know that I don’t know or something you don’t know that I know for tomorrow’s all-knowing column, tweet me @GolfweekRingler.