WEST LAFAYETTE, IND.--Kevin Chappell called it one of the top five rounds of his life. All I can say, then, is I wish I could have seen his other four after walking all 18 holes with the UCLA senior today and watching him shoot a four-under 68 in steady 15 mile-per-hour winds that gusted to 25 mph at Purdue's Kampen Course. I know I'm adding it to my own list of the top-five most impressive rounds I've seen in 11 years covering the college game.
The Fresno, Calif., native now sits at six-under 210 through 54 holes of the 111th NCAA Championship, four strokes better than Clemson's Kyle Stanley and Washington's Nick Taylor. He's the only golfer in the 156-player field to post two sub-par rounds (note: the afternoon wave of players is still on the course) let alone the only person to break 70 twice after posting an opening-round 69.
"I think this week has opened his eyes to understand that he's really at a level a lot of guys don't get to," said UCLA coach Derek Freeman. "There are times when he can do things that other guys physically just can't do, hit shots that other guys just can't."
Indeed, playing with Stanley and USC's Tim Sluiter (who sits tied for fifth, six shots back), Chappell impressively worked his way around the course, flighting his ball into the wind like a tour professional while posting one of only two sub-par rounds in the morning wave.
After making a six-foot birdie putt on the second hole and 10-footer to save par on the par-5 fifth, he was the first player in the day's opening five threesomes to hit the green on the 200-yard par-3 sixth hole.
A birdie/bogey exchange on the eighth and ninth hole had him turn at two under. He made a birdie on the par-5 10th, before hitting arguably his best shot of the day with his approach on the 477-yard par-4 12th. Digging out a low three-quarters 3-iron, Chappell landed the ball two feet from the hole for an easy birdie. He followed it up with another birdie on the par-3 13th from 10 feet.
The only true drama of his round came on the 18th. Chappell nearly hooked his drive out of bounds on the 484-yard par-4 playing into the wind, his ball coming to rest a few feet from a neighboring yard. Trying to hook his second shot to the green, this one stayed straight, landing in foot-long rough short and right of the green. From the fairway, Freeman called the entire team, sitting behind the green, to come help look for the ball, eventually finding it in the long grass.
Chappell somehow slashed the ball out over the green and nearly holed a 30-footer with his putter to save par, tapping in for a bogey 5 and a little relief.
"I couldn't ask for a better round," Chappell said. "The [into the wind] shots have been something I've always been able to play, and I like to hit my long irons. You screw around all the time on the range with those shots. It's nice to see them put to good use."
Chappell's play, meanwhile, almost single-handedly allowed UCLA to take back the team lead, as the Bruins shot a 10-over 298 (the next best score was Craig Leslie's 74) to go to 24-over 888 with one round to play.
Crosstown rival USC appeared to be taking control half way through the third round, taking as much as a six-stroke advantage on UCLA at one point. But over the final three holes (which also includes the 608-yard par-5 16th and 206-yard par-3 17th, both also playing into the wind) the Trojans stumbled mightly, making five bogeys, a double bogey and a triple bogey, and leaving coach Chris Zambri befuddled.
"I don't know what's going on," said Zambri, whose squad shot a third-round 12-over 300. "Finishing rounds is a big, big, big part of golf. Finishing tournaments is a big part of golf. You can practice until the cows come home, hit a million range balls, it's still not going to help you [unless you finish the round]. We've just got to make sure these guys are ready to feel that and handle that.
Amazingly, defending NCAA champion Jamie Lovemark was the non-counter for the second time in three days for the Trojans, the sophomore shooting a six-over 78. "It's a shame," Zambri said. "I don't know what to say. Hopefully he can turn it around tomorrow and put up a big round for us."
USC's struggles helped third-round leader Clemson also stay in the mix as the Tigers posted a 14-over 302 but are tied with the Trojans overall entering the final round, three strokes back of UCLA. While shooting six over on the par-5s, Stanley finished with a two-over 74, matching Ben Martin as Clemson's best of the day.
In fourth place alone is Stanford, looking to become the first school in 23 years to defend its NCAA team title.