While there was some separation among schools in the team competition, the same can't be said for the NCAA Championship's individual race. Ten players were within five shots of leader Alex Ching of San Diego when play was called for the day on Wednesday.
A 20-year-old sophomore from Honolulu, Ching followed up his opening-round 69 with a six-under 66 that tied The Honors Course's competitive course record. Starting on the 10th tee, he made birdies on five his first eight holes before having his round stopped during the afternoon rain delay. When play resumed, he birdied two of his next three holes before making a double bogey on the par-3 third hole. He bounced back with a birdie on the seventh hole to close his round.
"It was one of those days where everything kind of clicked for me," said Ching, who was the co-leader entering the final round at last year's NCAA Championship before closing with a 76 and falling to T-13. "I went out there not expecting anything and just the putts fell."
At nine-under 135, Ching has a two-stroke lead on Illinois' Scott Langley, who was five under on his round through 17 holes before darkness stopped played Wednesday evening. Langley had played bogey-free for his first 16 holes, making four birdies and an eagle (on the par-4 15th) to vault into contention, before slipping up on his last hole just as play was being called.
Also tied for second at seven under are Oklahoma State sophomore Peter Uihlein and Augusta State's Henrik Norlander, each having played during the morning wave Wednesday Uihlein posted a second-round 68, highlighted by a 50-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th.
Norlander, who started the round a co-leader along with Arizona State's__Jesper Kennegard__, shot a three-under 69, missing just one fairway all day. "It was probably the best round of my life," said Norlander, a junior from Sweden who has had three collegiate wins in his career, including a two-stroke victory at ASU's home event in April. "I just stuck to my game plan, hit the ball to the fat part of the green and tried to score on the par 5s."
"He hit it where he was supposed to hit it and made his birdies when he had the chance," said Jaguar coach Josh Gregory. "He plays well on hard courses. And this place truly suits his eye. You've got to drive it well, and you've got to [hit your] irons well. When it's a ball-striking contest, he's going to have a darn good chance to contend."
An intriguing wrinkle regarding the individual competition will be the strategies that Uihlein and Florida State senior Seath Lauer, four back of Ching at five under and tied for fifth, follow during the round. Provided their schools don't stumble early, their spots in match play aren't likely to be in doubt come the back nine, allowing this duo to play more freely perhaps than Ching, whose squad is thick in the hunt for a spot in match play.
What a difference a day makes? Try a 16-shot difference.
After shooting a opening-round 82, Virginia's Henry Smart came back in the second round at The Honors Course with a six-under 66, equalling the day's low score and tying the competitive course record.
At four over for 36 holes, the sophomore is T-84, but his low number helped push the Cavaliers up the leader board from 25th to 11th place (two out of the top eight) when play was suspended for darkness. With two players left on the course, UVa was nine under for the second round. If they finished at nine under, they would make the low score of the tournament.
"It was a great day," said Virginia coach Bowen Sargent. "I challenged the guys this morning that if they wanted to get to match play they would have to play great and they responded. We've still got some work to do, but at least now we are in a position to compete for one of those eight spots."