NCAAs: Spieth, top-10 squads struggle at Riviera

Jordan Spieth of Texas during the 2012 NCAA Championship at Riviera Country Club.

Jordan Spieth of Texas during the 2012 NCAA Championship at Riviera Country Club.

Men's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Joey GarberGeorgia  68.65 
2Robby SheltonAlabama  68.65 
3Patrick RodgersStanford  68.71 
4Ollie SchniederjansGA Tech  68.85 
5Cameron WilsonStanford  69.10 

Men's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Alabama 68.97 
2Georgia Tech 69.68 
3Georgia 69.68 
4Oklahoma State 69.77  10 
5California 69.86  11 

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – There were warning signs weeks ago. Jordan Spieth hit too many balls without his coach’s supervision, and the Texas freshman’s swing began to get too long and too across the line at the top.

At the NCAA Southwest Regional in Norman, Okla., Spieth made only three-quarter swings and “bunted” the ball down the fairway. The Player of the Year candidate still shot 66-77-74 to tie for seventh.

Unfortunately, two poor swings with a wedge Wednesday at the NCAA Championship now threaten to cut short his spectacular freshman campaign. He took four bunker shots en route to a triple-bogey 7 on No. 10, then double-bogeyed the next hole, a par 5, on his way to a back-nine 45. His second-round 79 at Riviera Country Club was his highest score of the season. Even worse, the top-seeded Longhorns were forced to count Spieth’s 79 after junior Cody Gribble carded the same score.

“I put all of what happened today on myself,” Spieth said afterward. “Nothing went right for me.”

The top eight teams after 54 holes make match play, and after the second round, Texas -- which has won seven times and occupied the No. 1 spot in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings for much of the season -- is tied for 13th at 17-over 585. Here’s the thing, though: The Longhorns are only one shot out of the all-important eighth spot.

It could have been much worse. Toni Hakula (71) made a hole-in-one on the par-3 sixth, and Dylan Frittelli (72) birdied 17, then holed out from the fairway on 18 for eagle.

“I don’t feel like we played ridiculously poorly,” Fields said. “It was a tough day today because we had to take a big score.”

Spieth’s big number, of course, was the most surprising. Prior to NCAAs, he had posted six rounds of 75 or worse, including two in his past three starts (Big 12 Championship and NCAA Regional).

On Wednesday, Spieth actually birdied two of his first three holes, moving to even par for the tournament. Then he played Nos. 6-16 in 10 over.

“It’s unacceptable; it’s out of the ordinary,” said Spieth, who is at 10-over 152. “I have to make it up to the team tomorrow. Unfortunately, it’s just not where it needs to be. Hopefully I can find something tomorrow.”

But Texas is far from the only team that needs a solid final round to make match play.

No player from Auburn, No. 5 in Golfweek’s rankings, shot better than 74 Wednesday. The Tigers’ 15-over 299 dropped them from a tie for second to T-15.

The only team score worse than Auburn’s in the morning wave was the one turned in by eighth-ranked Stanford, which plummeted to 22nd in the 30-team field after a 18-over 302. At one point Wednesday, freshman Patrick Rodgers led the individual race, at 4 under, only to play the last three holes in 3 over.

“Tough sledding for us today,” Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. “If you let yourself get down, it kind of snowballs. Then you press, and you only end up making more bogeys.”

Sixth-ranked Cal and No. 4 USC (which supposedly enjoys an enormous home-course advantage this week) are in a five-way tie for eighth after 36 holes. Seventh-ranked Oregon is T-13. Texas A&M, ranked No. 10, is T-20.

Predictably, the afternoon wave (featuring the 15 lower seeds) played more difficult, with the Poa annua greens becoming firmer and bumpier, the wind continuing to blow. And, yes, these top-tier teams, the ones that were supposed to comprise an epic match-play bracket, eventually climbed their way back toward the top of the leaderboard, back into the mix, by the end of the day.

Said Ray, “It’s still in the realm of possibilities that we’ll have a chance tomorrow.”

A chance. That’s all any team really wants, right?

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