After long delay, second round still not over at Inverness
__TOLEDO--__Almost 4 1/2 hours.
That's how long the competitors were forced to sit around and entertain themselves as rain and lighting near Inverness Club made a mess of the second round of the 112th NCAA Championship.
In turn, it was the amount of time Georgia's Russell Henley had to contemplate an eight-foot birdie try on the seventh hole (his 16th of the day) that would give him sole possession of the individual lead at the most prestigious tournament in college golf.
Returning to the green at 4:05 p.m., the 20-year-old sophomore from Macon, Ga. proceeded to hole the putt before closing out a round of 67 and posting a four-under 140 total after 36 holes.
"I guess it was worth the wait," Henley joked afterward.
Before the sun set Wednesday, Henley had company for the title of "leader in the clubhouse" as N.C. State sophomore Matt Hill made an eagle on his second to last hole to close out a second-round 69 and leave him also a four under for the competition.
As for the overall leader, though, that title belonged to San Diego freshman Alex Ching, who made three of birdies and an eagle through 11 holes to get to five under on the day and six under overall when darkness finally put an end to a very long day at just before 9 p.m. (Also on the course at four under overall was Michigan's Alexander Sitompul, who had eight holes left on a round where he had made five birdies.)
When the weather delay did end in the late afternoon, conditions on the course were dramatically different than when the second round started at 7 a.m. The wind had calmed to almost nothing and the greens were considerably more receptive.
While the early groups eventually finished play--Oklahoma State posting a four-under 280 for an even-par 568 that gave them a five-stroke lead on Georgia in the team competition--none of the schools teeing off in the afternoon wave could get their rounds in by nightfall, forcing them to resume their second rounds at 6:45 a.m. Thursday morning. The third round was then expect to begin at 10 a.m. with the schools repaired to reflect 36-hole scores.
"I was just trying to keep it in the fairways and play smart," Hill said. "I was hoping a few putts would drop."
Trailing Ching by three strokes is Texas A&M's Bronson Burgoon, the senior making two birdies after resuming play to post a four-under 67.
"It was hard coming back four hours later because you were on a roll," Burgoon said. "You had to approach it like it was a whole new round
Suffice it to say, the Donald Ross course had gained the respect of the 156 players in the field at Inverness during the course of the week. But the rains have changed the complexion of the course, making the strategy come Thursday an interesting part of the story line.
"I think the course is just going to play about the same distance but on the greens you're going to be able to go after more flags," Henley said.
At stake Thursday, baring any more weather issues, will be the individual title, part of the revamped format of the championship where the medalist will be crowned after 54 holes. Simultaneously, the top eight schools will advance to a two-day match-play competition to determine the national champion.
"I just want the team to get in the final eight so we have a chance to win this, being a senior and all," Burgoon said. "It would be great to win as an individual but it would be even better to win as a team."
If waiting over a birdie putt for 4 1/2 hours was tough for Henley to endure, you can imagine what it was like for Oklahoma State freshman Morgan Hoffmann, who shared the lead at three under with Henley but found himself in a bunker at the 17th hole, 40 yards from the hole when the weather delay occurred.
Upon returning, the Big 12 player of the year left his third shot in the bunker, blasted his fourth out and two-putted for a double-bogey 6. After a par on the 18th, he finished with a 69 and a one-under 141 total. "I felt the sand was going to be more compact and it was really wet," Hoffmann said about his first sand shot.
It capped off an adventurous round for Hoffmann, who was co-medalist at Inverness at last September's NCAA Fall Preview. He made two eagles during the day but also had two double bogeys.
"It was a rough finish," Hoffmann said. "But I was hitting it good all day. I have a lot of confidence from this round."
No school took better advantage of the change in playing conditions before and after the rain delay than Texas A&M, which posted the day's low score (eight-under 276) to jump from T-12 after the first round to a tie for third place, six strokes back of Oklahoma State
Getting back on the course after the delay, the Aggies still faced the toughest stretch at Inverness, holes No. 3-7, but wound up playing them in only three over par (they were 11 over on those holes during the first round). They then proceeded to make three birdies on the eighth hole
"I think it definitely worked to our advantage," said Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins. "When we went in the wind on four and five was going to be dead into us and six would have been a cross wind. and when we went back out, there was no wind at all. it was as still as it could be. the balls were stopping in the fairway, they weren't running through. It ended up being a blessing. You never know how those are going to turn out. I'm really glad we took advantage of it."
Took advantage indeed. Texas A&M's improved 22 strokes on its first-round 298.
Without his teammates in Ohio with him after N.C. State failed to advance to nationals out of the Central Regional two weeks ago, Wolfpack sophomore Matt Hill says that the NCAA Championship feels different than most other college events.
"It's probably a lot more like an amateur event, just getting to do what I want. Maybe there's a little bit less pressure. i don't have to worry about me and not have to try and grind as much."
The last individual to win the NCAA title was UNLV's Ryan Moore at The Homestead in 2004.