PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF.--After shooting a four-under 67 to take the first-round lead at the 115th NCAA Championship, UCLA's Anton Arboleda was asked the obvious question outside Riviera CC's clubhouse late Tuesday afternoon: What had you been doing in the days leading up to the tournament to get yourself ready to play at nationals?
Suffice it to say, suffer from a viral infection wasn't necessarily the answer anyone expected.
Despite a spiking fever that waylaid the sophomore from La Canada, Calif., for three days after NCAA Regionals, Arboleda looked no worse for wear in his opening round as he used the local knowledge he's picked up from playing Riviera roughly 15 times during the 2011-12 season to his advantage. While stumbling a bit over the first nine holes, Arboleda played the back nine in five under par, making birdie putts from inside 10 feet on four of the holes to take a one-stroke advantage on Kent State's Corey Conners and Florida's Tyler McCumber.
"Unfortunately I had a few bogeys on the front nine, but I knew my game was solid," Arboleda said. "I was hitting good shots even when I was hitting bogeys. Just got some bad breaks."
A nice six-foot par saving putt on the par-4 18th hole closed out the round.
Arboleda's score proved important for the Bruins overall as the team got no better than three-over 74s from Patrick Cantlay,Pedro Figueiredo and Pontus Widegren to end Round 1 in a tie for fourth place, four strokes back of Alabama.
With three top-10 finishes in 2011-12, Arboleda has put together a solid season, posting a 72.6 stroke average, but has been overshadowed by the more showy results from Cantlay (his roommate during their freshman year) and Widegren. Still, UCLA coach Derek Freeman has appreciated the progress that Arboleda has made.
"Anton is a really, really good player and he just flies under the radar," Freeman said. "He's not worried what it looks like. He's not worried about results-oriented or anything like that. He's just trying to play the best golf he can. And that's what he did. He just hit good shots in the right position to get himself an opportunity to score."
Arboleda says the biggest difference in his game this season has been course management. A more mature approach to how to play during a round has helped eliminate silly mistakes.
"I don't think it's anything that's magical," Freeman said. "I don't think it's anything that's surprising. I think he just understands a little better what it takes to play good golf. And being able to do it on a stage like this just reaffirms to him that he can."