Texas charges back into contention at NCAAs
HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Two years ago, Texas won the national title. Last season, the Longhorns advanced to match play. Yet, when Texas arrived at Prairie Dunes Country Club for this week's NCAA Championship, it did so not as a favorite, but as an underdog.
"We weren't expected to do well in this tournament at all," Texas junior Kramer Hickok said. "We came in as the 16th seed. We haven't had a very good year. There's been stories written about us that we wouldn't even make it here. So I know the expectations from others are very low.
"But that only gives us a little chip on our shoulder and a will to play better."
That will was showcased Sunday as the Longhorns fired a second-round, 2-under 278 to move into a tie for 14th at 7 over. No team shot a better number in Round 2 play Sunday, and unlike Alabama and LSU, which also shot second-round 278s, Texas played all 18 holes of its second round in difficult scoring conditions Sunday.
PHOTOS: NCAA Championships (Sunday)
View images from Sunday's play at the Men's NCAA Division 1 Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club.
Just how difficult? Consider that of the teams that played their entire second round Sunday, no one came within five shots of the Longhorns' score.
"We thought we would need a little more than we did today, although as it turned out, that was a really fine round on this golf course today and I'm really proud of my guys," Texas head coach John Fields said. "I know that's going to be exciting for the guys because that creates some believability."
Confidence is an important ingredient of success at any tournament, especially the NCAA Championship – and the 15th-ranked Longhorns, who notched their first victory of the season last month at the Big 12 Championship, are gaining it at the most opportune moment.
"We haven't played our best golf yet," Hickok said. "We're all kind of starting to get it together and click at the right time, and we think that we can come in here and win. . . . We're not here to just compete, we're here to win."
Through two rounds, senior Toni Hakula leads the way for Texas at even-par 140 while freshman Beau Hossler is 1 over and Hickok 2 over. Another freshman, Gavin Hall, is 4 over. The Longhorns don't have that one player going low at the moment, but with four guys playing solid, that bodes just as well for a final-round charge at the top 8.
A product of being in the top 15, Texas will begin its final round Monday – and it will do so just four shots outside the top 8. The Longhorns aren't the only big name within striking distance, either. No. 7 Illinois (5 over) and No. 8 Washington (6 over) are both within three shots while South Carolina (4 over), Auburn (6 over), Vanderbilt (6 over) and UAB (7 over) will also be looking to move into a match-play spot Monday.
The top 8 heading into the third round: Stanford (12 under), Alabama (8 under), Oklahoma State (4 under), LSU (3 under), Georgia Tech (1 under), SMU (even), Oklahoma (even) and UCLA (3 over).
"For us to finish strong like that and come in under par with a little bit of wind is very important to us," Hickok said. "It gives us a chance. Tomorrow is really everything."