News & ToursFebruary 28, 2008

This week's syllabus: Feb. 28-March 5

__THE FAB FIVE

My look at the top five teams in the country right now

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  1. Alabama (Last week's ranking: 1)

When the Crimson Tide play in Puerto Rico this weekend, amazingly it will be the first time in 2007-08 that they'll be playing with the five golfers--Michael Thompson, Mark Harrell, Joseph Sykora, Gator Todd and Matthew Swan--who competed for the school at last year's NCAA Championship, where they finished sixth.

Next event: Puerto Rico Classic, Rio Mar CC, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Feb. 29-March 2

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  1. UCLA (2)

The Bruins' Blue (junior varsity) team had five players finish in the top 14 at the CSU-Bakersfield Invitational, including Erik Flores claiming his first individual college victory. A promotion to the Gold (varsity) team might not be far off for the junior.

Next event: Southern Highlands Collegiate, Southern Highlands CC, Las Vegas, March 7-9

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  1. Charlotte (3)

Despite failing to win their first stroke-play event of the season with their fifth-place showing at the John Hayt, the 49ers have the second lowest adjusted stroke average (71.14) and second lowest average drop score (75.36) of any Division I school.

Next event: Southern Highlands Collegiate, Southern Highlands CC, Las Vegas, March 7-9

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  1. Tennessee (4)

Don't be surprised if the Vols get off to a fast start in California next week; the team leads the country in first-round scoring average with a 71.57 individual player average. Additionally, four Tennessee players have posted a 64 or better this season.

Next event: USC Collegiate Invitational, North Ranch CC, Westlake Village, Calif., March 3-4

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  1. Georgia (5)

Long rest is finally over for the Bulldogs as they start their spring season in Puerto Rico. Suffice it to say, it's time to prove it wasn't too long a break.

Next event: Puerto Rico Classic, Rio Mar CC, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Feb. 29-March 2

WOMEN

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  1. Duke (2)

Blue Devils fans expect wins, but the runner-up finish at this week's Arizona Wildcat Invite to start the spring wasn't too bad, particularly with Amanda Blumenherst earning her 10th career individual win.  "We were two shots back and for this being our first tournament, it was a good finish," said coach Dan Brooks. "This tournament is always one that we try to prepare, get ready for the season and access where we are at. I am pretty happy with what I saw."

Next event: UCF Invitational, Red Tail GC, Sorrento, Fla., March 9-11

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  1. UCLA (1)

A sixth-place showing at Arizona Wildcat wasn't the way the Bruins wanted to follow up their convincing win at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge. However, given the horrible winds in Tucson, the team's uncharacteristically high second-round scores at the tournament was an aberration (see "Stat of the Week" below).

Next event: UCF Invitational, Red Tail GC, Sorrento, Fla., March 9-11

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  1. USC (3)

Impressive final-round charge at the Arizona Wildcat was too little too late to win, but did give the Trojans a share of second with Duke. Could Belen Mozo be a sleeper to beat Blumenherst and/or Arkansas' Stacy Lewis at the NCAA Championship? You bet!

Next event: UCF Invitational, Red Tail GC, Sorrento, Fla., March 9-11

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  1. Florida (4)

The Gators just keep impressing, this time with a victory at their home event, the SunTrust Lady Gator Invitational, last Sunday. Seven tournament start, seven top-five finishes despite now missing their two best players from last year's squad.

Next event: UCF Invitational, Red Tail GC, Sorrento, Fla., March 9-11

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  1. Oklahoma State (NR)

The Cowgirls proved they can play with anyone after an impressive victory at the Arizona Wildcat, the team's first of the year. "I think the difference this week was the way our girls finished rounds two and three," coach Laura Matthews said. "The course was playing tough with the windy conditions and slow play, but the fact we were able to finish strong set us apart in the end." Addition of January freshman Jaclyn Sweeney proved particular important here considering her T-2 individual finish.

Next event: UCF Invitational, Red Tail GC, Sorrento, Fla., March 9-11

__STAT OF THE WEEK

80.14 __

The second-round scoring average at the Arizona Wildcat Invitational.

Suffice it to say, the carnage that took place Feb. 26 at Arizona National GC--thanks to some serious wind that blew upwards of 20 mph--will not be forgotten for quite a while. The average was nearly four strokes higher than for the first round (76.38) and almost two strokes worse than the final round (78.3). Consider that the starting five for UCLA had broken 80 in 73 of 75 competitive rounds during the 2007-08 season entering this week's three-day tournament. In the second round, however, just one player broke 80: Sydnee Michael's 77. This on a team that includes a U.S. Curtis Cup team member (Tiffany Joh) and the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champion (Maria Jose Uribe). Only Joanne Lee of USC broke par on the day (shooting a 70) and sadly for the Trojans, she was playing as a non-counting individual.

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WHAT TO WATCH FOR__

  • Purdue junior Maria Hernandez, last season's Big Ten player of the year, was going to try to play through the pain of a sore back this past week at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic. Yet, when spasms occurred while she was warming up for the first round Feb. 24, the native of Pamplona, Spain, had to be scratched from the Boilermakers line-up. Purdue coach Devon Brouse said that Hernandez has dealt with soreness in her back for a while but it began to become an issue in early February when she was preparing for the team's spring opener. While preventing her from playing in Puerto Rico (the team subbed Camie Mess in the starting five and finished fifth, eight strokes back of champion Alabama), the injury isn't expected to sideline Hernandez long-term. "We feel with some rest she's going to be good to play at Central Florida [the UCF Invitational, March 7-9]," Brouse said.

Interestingly, Brouse contends that Hernandez might, in the long run, benefit from taking a tournament off. Unable to play, Hernandez was asked by Brouse to follow freshman Maude-Aimee Leblanc during the competition. In doing so, Brouse believes Hernandez gained a different perspective in how to think her way around a golf course. (Not like she's really struggled at doing that this season, as Hernandez does have a 72.08 stroke average). Leblanc, meanwhile, had her best college finish, coming in second to Arkansas' Stacy Lewis with a four-under 212 showing at Coco Beach GC in San Juan.

  • The Florida State men's team finished second in its spring opener, the Gator Invitational, losing to the host school by 12 strokes. With that the Seminoles moved up one spot in the most recent Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll, to No. 10, as they get ready to hold the annual Seminole Invitational next week. Some will argue that might be too high a spot in the poll considering the team has a 73.23 individual player stroke average, the second highest among all top 25 programs. Thankfully for FSU fans, however, the coaches' have recognized that Trey Jones' squad has played some extreme difficult golf courses so far in the 2007-08 season. They opened in the Inverness Invitational, finishing first at Toledo's Inverness Club, then played the Ping/Golfweek Preview at Purdue's Kampen Course (seventh place) before competing at the Illini Invitational at Olympia Fields outside Chicago (fourth place). Their final stroke play event in the fall was Isleworth CC (T-14).

Highly touted freshman Drew Kittleson only has a 73.77 average in five stroke-play starts, a disappointment for some although not to Jones. "Think of the courses he's played to start his college career," Jones said recently. "There have been no push overs. I think this will help him in the long run, and the rest of our team. We've had a chance to really test our games and I'm proud of our record.

  • Southern California's Jamie Lovemark swept most of the significant collegiate-golf national player of the year awards after his impressive 64-64 finish to win the NCAA individual title last June at Golden Horseshoe GC in Williamsburg, Va. His stellar play, however is getting recognition outside of the golf world as the 20-year-old from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., was named one of 11 finalists last week for the Sullivan Award, awarded by the AAU to the top overall amateur athlete for a given year. The general public can participate in the vote (fan voting counts for one-third of the overall voting) by going to USAToday.com (here is a direct link to the voting page). The winner will be announced April 1. Only twice has a golfer claimed the prestigious award: Bobby Jones (1930) and Lawson Little (1935)

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UPCOMING TOURNAMENTS

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Puerto Rico Classic

River Course at Rio Mar CC (Par 72, 6,902 yards)

Rio Grande, Puerto Rico

Feb. 29-March 2

Host: Purdue

Field: Alabama, Clemson, Duke, East Tennessee State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kent State, Michigan, Minnesota, N.C. State, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Texas, Virginia Tech

Defending champion: Georgia (14-under par) by one over Clemson and Stanford; Roberto Castro, Georgia Tech and__Joseph Bramlett__, Stanford (seven-under 209)

Skinny: Six of top 13 teams in the latest Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll make their way to Puerto Rico. No. 1 Georgia, No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 13 Clemson are all playing their first tournament of the spring semester.

Ron Smith/USF Invitational

(For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

South Course at Lake Jovita GC (Par 72, 7,084 yards)

Dade City, Fla.

Feb. 29-March 2__

Host:__ South Florida__

Field:__ Arkansas State, Austin Peay State, Columbus State, DePaul, Eastern Michigan, Florida Southern, Jacksonville State, Marquette, Middle Tennessee State, Missouri, Nebraska, Rhode Island, South Florida, Southeastern Louisiana, Texas-San Antonio, Troy, VCU, Xavier__

Defending champion:__ Middle Tennessee State (five-over 869) by 12 over Jacksonville State; Mike Van Sickle, Marquette (three-under 213) by one over Rhode Island's Ben Spitz and New Orleans' Jose Toledo __

Skinny:__ The Blue Raiders are two-time defending champions of the event, being held for the 16th time. They also are coming off a one-shot victory this week at Houston's All-American Classic after passing four schools on the final day.

Seminole Invitational

(For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Golden Eagle CC (Par 72, 6,965 yards)

Tallahassee, Fla.

March 2-4

Host: Florida State

Field: Alabama-Birmingham, Auburn, Charleston, Florida State, LSU, Louisville, Maryland, Mississippi, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Virginia

Defending champion: Auburn (one-over 865) by five over North Carolina; Rhys Davies, East Tennessee State (six-under 210) by two over UAB's Zack Sucher

Skinny: Auburn has momentum after the Tigers' 11-shot victory at the John Burns Collegiate in Hawaii last week, in which the team broke the 54-hole school record by 14 strokes with a 44-under 820 showing.

USC Collegiate Invitational

(For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

North Ranch CC (Par 71, 6,742 yards)

Westlake Village, Calif.

March 3-4

Host: Southern California

Field: BYU, California, Fresno State, Loyola Marymount, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, Oregon State, Pepperdine, Southern California, Stanford, Tennessee, UCLA, Washington

Defending champion: Stanford (four-under 848) by five over Southern California; Rory Hie, Southern California (five-under 208) by two over teammate Jamie Lovemark and Loyola Marymount's Brian Locke

Skinny: The Volunteers, winners in Tucson at the end of January, head west again, but face UCLA and USC on their home turf, and a Stanford squad that appears to be getting better. Winless thus far in 2006-07, I think the time is right for the host Trojans to hoist the hardware.

__WOMEN

San Jose State Spartan Invitational__

Almaden CC (Par 72, 6,192 yards)

San Jose, Calif.

March 3-4

Host: San Jose State

Field: California, Colorado, Colorado State, Fresno State, Gonzaga, Hawaii, Idaho, Long Beach State, North Carolina, Oregon State, San Francisco, San Jose State, Santa Clara, UC Irvine, Washington

Defending champion: San Jose State (13-over 877) by 15 over California and Colorado; Selanee Henderson, UC Irvine (six-under 210) by two over SJSU's Janelle Gomez

Skinny: While SJSU is the two-time defending champion, local rival California is the only ranked team in the field. Meanwhile, North Carolina heads west after a fifth-place finish at the Lady Gator, the Tar Heels best finish of the 2007-08 season.

USA Lady Jaguar Invitational

Azalea City GC (Par 72, 5,821 yards)

Mobile, Ala.

March 3-4

Host: South Alabama

Field: Alabama-Birmingham, Arkansas State, Austin Peay State, Belmont, East Tennessee State, Jackson State, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Lamar, Louisiana-Monroe, McNeese State, Middle Tennessee State, Nicholls State, Samford, South Alabama, Southern Mississippi, Troy, Winthrop

Defending champion: Middle Tennessee State (15-over 591) by 14 over Jacksonville State; Taryn Durham, Middle Tennessee State (two-under 142) by two over Western Carolina's Malin Fryk

Skinny: The Blue Raiders return to defend their title with a new coach, Chris Adams, who is making her debut with the team after being hired in December. Meanwhile, host South Alabama returns to the course after an unusual finish at the McNeese Invitational earlier in February: the Jaguars were deemed the tournament winners but after posting a final-round 312, but the McNeese staff misread the scoreboard and Florida International had actually won the event with South Alabama finished second. The mistake wasn't found out until late that night.

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