Cal grabs 1st-round lead at Western Intercollegiate

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SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – Every player in California’s six-man lineup this week has played Pasatiempo Golf Club in competition, but there’s still some education going on in Santa Cruz.

“Our lineup has been set for two and a half years,” Cal head coach Steve Desimone said the day before the start of the Transamerica/WFG Western Intercollegiate. The tournament’s play-six-count-five format allowed one more player onto the team this week, but Cal also brought two individuals. All eight Golden Bears in the field finished the first 18 holes at 73 or better.

Cal’s 5-under 345 was good for the lead at the midway point of a sunny, 36-hole Saturday. It was a local-talent kind of morning on Monterey Bay. Stanford was tied for second with Washington at 3-under 347, only two shots back.

Cal and Stanford each traveled less than 75 miles to compete here, and each also counted a 5-under 65 – Patrick Rodgers posted it for Stanford and Joel Stalter for Cal. Those players shared the early individual lead.

A gray, still morning gave way to a sunny but equally calm afternoon, which might account for the low scores.

“This course is hard enough without any breeze,” Stanford head coach Conrad Ray said at the halfway point. Combine that with uncharacteristically soft greens for penal Pasatiempo and lower scores were not surprising.

Stanford had been prepared for difficult conditions before arriving. Ray had his team study past pin placements so they had an idea of what to expect.

“We did talk about our green strategy,” he said. Historically, conquering the greens has been the key to winning the Western.

Cal returns this year the defending team, and searching for a seventh victory this season. Only two of the six players who competed on last year’s Western-winning team are back this year. Max Homa has since moved on to pro golf, and Michael Kim turned professional after the fall semester. In their absence, Stalter’s 65 was key.

Michael Weaver, absent last year because of a start in the Masters (courtesy his runner-up finish at the U.S. Amateur), contributed 69. Brandon Hagy, one returner, did the same as James Yoon, the other returner, posted an opening 70.

It was a solid start to the morning for Cal, at No. 5 in Golfweek's, the highest ranked team in the field. Playing smart was the key because as Desimone noted pre-tournament, “Pasatiempo is a course that if you don’t make good decisions, it will absolutely punish you.”

For all the field, there remained plenty of time for punishment.

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