by Eric Soderstrom
OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – Claps of thunder reverberated around the boundaries of the Honors Course throughout the opening round of the NCAA Championship Tuesday, but the rain and lightning never came, unlike the red numbers.
“So much going on, but nothing,” said UCLA’s Pontus Widegren, one of 10 players to finish Round 1 at 3-under 69, one shot behind individual leaders Henrik Norlander of Augusta State and Jesper Kennegard of Arizona State.
That gust of wind you thought you felt? That was just Widegren blowing dry his sweaty palms, the ones from “cold and dry Sweden” that aren’t used this kind of humidity.
“Mother Nature did nothing to try to hurt the scores today,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw, whose top-ranked Cowboys finished the day at the top of the leaderboard at 5-under 283, tied with 19th-ranked Florida State, one shot ahead of Oregon.
Sixteen teams are within 10 shots of the all-important eighth-and-final spot that will qualify for match play, which starts Friday.
“Conditions I think were the main story today,” McGraw said. “It was perfect weather conditions out there. So perfect you couldn’t even imagine. If you would have had some wind out there, we would have had a whole different story.”
All day, players and coaches waited for a storm, or at least a siren. All day, the sounds of clouds colliding seemed to remind them that danger is lurking right around the corner. Rumbles could still be heard as darkness fell late Tuesday evening, as if to chuckle about what could happen tomorrow.
Both McGraw and Florida State coach Trey Jones stressed to reporters that they weren’t trying to say that the course played easy. Just easier.
“This course couldn’t have played any easier than it did today, and I don’t want that to come off as the course played easy,” said Jones.
Already overused stat of the week: Tiger Woods may have won the 1996 NCAA individual title here, but he also shot a final-round 80 here. That round happened to include a triple-bogey on the par-4 ninth hole, where Oklahoma State’s Peter Uihlein hit his approach in a patch of rough below the right side of the green, and failed to get up-and-down for par with his 60-degree wedge for the first time in three holes.
Uihlein’s closing bogey (OSU teed of on No. 10) left him in that crowded chase pack at 3 under, but also dropped Oklahoma State to 2 over on one of the easier holes of the day, “a gift hole,” as McGraw called it.
“That was disappointing, especially when you watch another team shoot 4 under on the same hole,” said McGraw, “but we played well.”