News & ToursMay 28, 2012

NCAA preview: Rough is ready at Riviera

*__kikuyu (ki'-ku-yu)

__-- n, -yus, -yu

  1. tropical grass species native to East Africa that's a popular lawn surface in Australia, South African and Southern California

  2. most likely excuse you'll hear from coaches when asked why their team missed out on match play at this week's NCAA Championship

__PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF.--__If you've ever watched the PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open at Riviera CC, then you're familiar with its famed kikuyu fairways and rough. But that's the thing, most golfers--even the elite amateur players who'll be competing this week for the national title--actually aren't familiar with the grass, or at least how to chip out of it.

As the 30 teams in the field worked their way around the famed__George Thomas__ course Monday during their lone practice round, many spent extra time near the greens, doing their best to get comfortable with the knarly surface before the starter's gun is fired tomorrow.

Some schools even pulled out secret weapons to help their players adjust.

               As promised over the weekend when he played at the Crowne Plaza at Colonial, PGA Tour pro __Jason Dufner__ was walking with the Auburn golf team this afternoon, the Tiger alum serving as a volunteer coach for the day to try and provide some insight into the four-time major championship venue.

For two teams, however, Riviera's kikuyu will feel like home, literally. UCLA and USC both get the chance to play the course on a regular basis during the year. The local knowledge gained would seem to give each of them a distinct advantage over their competitors. That combined with the fact that both teams are actually really good--the Bruins ranked fifth in the final Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll while the Trojans were seventh--has me liking their chances at getting into match play

So other six schools will be sticking around after the 54 holes of stroke-play qualifying wrap up? Here's my best guess.

__QUARTERFINALISTS

__[#image: /photos/55ad7551add713143b42661e]|||Washington logo 2008-09.gif|||

[__Washington

__

](http://www.gohuskies.com/sports/m-golf/wash-m-golf-body.html)Golf World/Nike Golf ranking: 15

Wins: 4

Top-fives: 9

Birdie: The Huskies have a SoCal feel to them, from laid-back coach Matt Thurmond to no nonsense No. 1 Chris Williams. This is an environment I can see them thriving in, particularly after the way they regrouped from a poor Pac-12 showing to win the regional in Norman.

Bogey: Consistency has been an issue for UW, and this is a week where you'd like to know what you should be expecting.

SDSU logo.gif

[__San Diego State

__

](http://goaztecs.cstv.com/sports/m-golf/sdsu-m-golf-body.html)Golf World/Nike Golf ranking: T-13

Wins: 5

Top-fives: 11

Birdie: The Aztecs, led by All-American candidate J.J. Spaun, are a confident bunch and have made nice incremental improvement, winning the Mountain West title the past two seasons and finishing first and second in their regional. Making match play would thus seem the next logical step.

Bogey: If there's a group among my final eight who might be a little starry eyed by the NCAA Championship, this might be the one.

USC logo.gif

______USC

__Golf World/Nike Golf ranking: 7

Wins: 2

Top-fives: 8

Birdie: The Trojans are a prime example of a squad where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. There aren't any true superstars in their lineup, just five solid players who've all been solid contributors in 2011-12.

Bogey: Amazingly, while USC has had three players win the individual championship a total of four times in its history, the school has never won the NCAA team title.

Oregon logo.gif

[__Oregon

__

](http://www.goducks.com/SportSelect.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=500&SPID=246&SPSID=4387)Golf World/Nike Golf ranking: 6

Wins: 6

Top-fives: 10

Birdie: This is essentially the same group that made it to the semifinals of the 2010 NCAAs, so the Ducks know what it takes to reach match play and even get through a round.

Bogey: This is essentially the same group that failed to qualify for the 2011 NCAAs, so the Ducks also know what it's like to suddenly stop playing up to their potential.

__SEMIFINALISTS

__[#image: /photos/55ad7551add713143b42661a]|||Texas logo 2009-10.gif|||

__[Texas

](http://www.texassports.com/sports/m-golf/tex-m-golf-body.html)__Golf World/Nike Golf ranking: 1

Wins: 7

Top-fives: 11

Birdie: The Longhorns have the best 1-2 punch in college golf, with Jordan Spieth and Dylan Frittelli leading the charge. But the team's consistency in 2011-12, the reason it has been the top-ranked team all spring, has been thanks to a deep lineup that gets results from Nos. 4 and 5 men in the lineup.

Bogey: Match play is unpredictable, and the last three years the top-ranked team in the country hasn't been able to navigate the entire bracket.

Cal logo.gif

____[__California

__

](http://www.calbears.com/sports/m-golf/cal-m-golf-body.html)Golf World/Nike Golf ranking: 3

Wins: 6

__Top-fives:__11

Birdie: This has been the best season in Golden Bears' history, and there's no reason to believe it's going to come to an early end.

Bogey: In recent history Cal has done best by playing the role of dark horse, most notably when it won the 2004 NCAA title. With the bullseye on its chest, things haven't necessarily played out as smoothly.

FINALIST[

](http://www.rolltide.com/sports/m-golf/alab-m-golf-body.html)[#image: /photos/55ad7551b01eefe207f6b778]|||Alabama logo.gif|||

__[Alabama

](http://www.rolltide.com/sports/m-golf/alab-m-golf-body.html)__Golf World/Nike Golf ranking: 2

Wins: 5

Top-fives: 9

Birdie: When on their games, the Crimson Tide foursome of Justin Thomas, Bobby Wyatt, Cory Whitsett and Hunter Hamrick can all post scary low scores, regardless of how tough a course is playing, which gets them into match play rather easily in my mind. They also, however, have a solid record in amateur match-play competitions, suggesting they'll be able to go deep into the weekend. Plus there's the added incentive of having watched from afar as the women's squad claimed the NCAA title last week in Nashville and wanting to see if they can keep up with their counterparts.

Bogey: It's been 22 years since a school had teams win both the men's and women's titles in the same season (Arizona State, 1990).

__CHAMPION

__[#image: /photos/55ad7551add713143b426627]|||UCLA logo 2008-09.gif|||

__[UCLA

](http://www.uclabruins.com/sports/m-golf/ucla-m-golf-body.html)__Golf World/Nike Golf ranking: 5

Wins: 1

__Top-fives:__11

Birdie: As I mentioned at the start, familiarity with the course is something I think gives the Bruins a big leg up on the rest of the field. Meanwhile, last year's experience of getting to match play (as the top seed) only to fall in the first round steeled this squad. Coach Derek Freeman admits that he didn't get his team ready to make the switch for stroke to match play, a lesson I think he's learned. Plus with Patrick Cantlay on top of his game and teammates Pontus Widegren, Alex Kim, Anton Arboleda and Pedro Figueiredo looking steady, the group seems primed to claim the title.

Bogey: In the three seasons since match play was added to nationals, no school ranked inside the top five entering the tournament has won the event. ... Oh, and I picked UCLA to win the women's title last week and didn't have much luck with that.

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