UCLA, Widegren take 36-hole lead at Western
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – It was a chilly sunset at Pasatiempo on Saturday, which made UCLA’s nine-shot Transamerica/WFG Western Intercollegiate lead seem a little unusual. Somehow, a bunch of boys from sunny Southern California built a significant lead on a day where temperatures dove and the wind gusted.
The significance wasn’t lost on UCLA senior Pontus Widegren, whose rounds of 66-69 held up for the lowest 36-hole total of the tournament.
“Even though we’re from la-la land, where it’s never windy or anything, we’ve played a lot of golf all around the U.S.,” Widegren said. “... We have a lot of experience on how to tackle things and when to be aggressive and when to not be.”
The thing is, UCLA doesn’t stay in its “la-la” bubble long enough to be hindered by postcard Los Angeles weather. As head coach Derek Freeman pointed out, the Bruins are all over the country – they’ve made multiple trips to Georgia and Oregon this season, as well as Texas, Hawaii and have been up and down their home state. In addition, Freeman’s UCLA squad is smart on the course, so when winds picked up late in the afternoon, the Bruins began a leaderboard climb.
“The temperature dropped, it got hard, and that’s part of it,” Freeman said. “These guys have to learn to adjust on the fly and they’ve got to be able to make good decisions and smart shots and they’re going to be in good shape.”
San Diego State was the story of the morning at the 67th playing of this event, and rode five eagles on the front nine to a brief nine-shot lead. UCLA began to climb around the lunch hour, and ended the day with a nine-shot cushion on California, the top-ranked program in the country.
UCLA added 20 shots from its first round to its second round on a marathon, 11-hour day of golf. The Bruins were nearly a dozen under par before the entire leaderboard began to backtrack in a 20 mph wind. They finished the day at 11-over 702 in this play-six-count-five format.
UCLA got a big boost not only from Widegren, a native of Sweden, but also from fellow senior Pedro Figueiredo, a Portuguese player who shot rounds of 65-71 to fall into place one spot behind Widegren on the individual leaderboard. Their careers winding down, Widegren and Figueiredo give a big boost to this Bruin team. On Saturday, their international experience added an intangible around Pasatiempo.
“It definitely got tougher, especially the second half of the second round,” Figueiredo said. “...You just had to stay patient. You knew it was playing hard, you just had to be tough out there.”
If any team is going to catch UCLA over Sunday’s final 18 holes, it likely will be California or Stanford. The Cardinal have an impressive record at the Western, having won this event eight times. As for Cal, a Western win would mean title No. 9 this season, and would leave the team only one tournament short of the 10-victory season Oklahoma State put together in 1985-86.
Senior Max Homa said it’s less about the overall number and more about putting together something special for a strong Cal support system in Santa Cruz this week. Pasatiempo is only a short drive from Berkeley, and Homa said the friend-and-family count here is high.
“It just kind of makes it more special when you win one up in your home area,” Homa said.
The Cal roster looks a little bit different this week, as redshirt-junior Michael Weaver spent the week at a different Alister MacKenzie design. Weaver earned a spot in the Masters with his runner-up finish this summer at the U.S. Amateur. The rest of the Cal team was sneaking glances at the telecast on Thursday and Friday, hoping for a shot of their teammate. Weaver missed the 36-hole cut.
In addition to Weaver, head coach Steve Desimone also was absent. He accompanied his player to Augusta and Homa was unsure when he might return west.
“I don’t blame him, he’s at the Masters,” Homa said. “I’d probably stay as well.”
Weaver had been a consistent member of Cal’s dominant fivesome this season, and this is only the second tournament he’s missed. Cal traveled two freshmen this week, who have a combined five starts this season, to reach their six-man squad. Homa said it’s been a good learning experience for those players, and the whole team is chipping in to show them the ropes.
Cal last won this tournament in 1950, so breaking such a streak would be just one more note to add to this historic season.