ASU takes Day 1 lead while Cal, Alabama lurk
__By Ryan Herrington
MILTON, GA.—To get through the first round of the NCAA Championship in one piece mentally is all any team competing this week at Capital City Club can truly ask for. So while California coach__Steve Desimone and Alabama coach Jay Seawell know their teams didn't play up to their own high standards set throughout the 2012-13 season, they also know they didn't do anything they can't be forgotten with a good night's sleep.
Instead of favorites, it was dark horses who led the way on Day 1 on the long but scoreable Crabapple Course outside Atlanta. Thanks to a nine-under 61 from freshman Jon Rahm, Arizona State claimed the first-round lead with a 10-under 270, outpacing host Georgia Tech by four strokes.
"I don't think any of my guys were that nervous today," said Sun Devil coach Tim Mickelson, who also counted scores from freshman__Max Rottluff__ (68), sophomore Austin Quick (70) and junior Spencer Lawson (71). "They seemed very comfortable. We were really loose, which kind of surprised me because none of my five guys have been to the NCAA postseason."
In third was Alabama, the reigning SEC champion and last year's NCAA runner-up. A 67 from 2012 NCAA player of the year Justin Thomas helped the Crimson Tide finish at five-under 275, despite the team being as low as 11 under at one point during its afternoon round.
Meanwhile, top-ranked California, attempting to win its 12-team title in 2012-13 and stake a claim to the label of best college team ever, ham and egged its way to a three-under 277 and a spot alone in fifth place. Desimone gladly took the score after seeing his team get off to a difficult start, hovering a few strokes over par early in the round.
"I sure feel a lot better than in the middle of the round," Desimone said. "The golf course is two different nines. Our goal was to try to hold steady [after starting on the 10th hole and playing the back nine first]. There were some birdie holes [on the holes they finished on]. We were able to take advantage of those and play our way back into the tournament."
For that he can thank Brandon Hagy. Teeing off on the 10th hole, the junior from Westlake Village, Calif., turned in even par but then made four birdies on his last nine holes for a 66, the best round of any player in the afternoon wave.
"I've always thought this round was the hardest," said Yellow Jackets coach Bruce Heppler of the opening 18 holes. "Because you've waited and you've waited and you've waited and if it doesn't go well, you get behind the eight ball. And I think sometimes you get some momentum. If you get off to a good start then suddenly this doesn't feel like that big a deal."
If the first round sets the tone, then the first four holes must have been paradise for Ollie Schniederjans. Four straight birdies looked to be five when he hit his approach to two feet on the fifth hole, only to miss the putt. A balky putter made what might have been a truly low round only a modest one when he finished at three-under 67.
Nobody in the afternoon could duplicate the performance of Rahm, whose morning 61 put him four strokes ahead of Oklahoma's__Abraham Ancer__ in the individual race.
The top teams who faced the more challenging course conditions Tuesday afternoon will come back Wednesday morning hoping to see if there are some low numbers waiting for them as well.