By Ron Balicki, Golfweek
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Led by junior Tyler McCumber, Florida posted the lowest score among the 15 teams in Tuesday’s morning wave of the NCAA Championship at Riviera Country Club.
McCumber, with a 3-under 68, shared the early lead with Kent State’s Corey Connors, while the Gators posted a team total of 4-over 288 for a one stroke edge over Oklahoma.
“The golf course was awesome,” said veteran Florida coach Buddy Alexander. “We were the first ones out so the greens were great. What an unbelievable experience for these kids to play out here, not just my team but everyone.”
Alexander has been around long enough to know there’s still a long way to go. This, by far, is not his first rodeo. In his 25-year career at Florida, Alexander has guided the Gators to 24 NCAA Championships..
“It’s way too early to get excited right now,” he said. “Heck, even for today, all the top-seeded teams are just going out there. Today, tomorrow, it’s a 36-hole race and after that the game is on so we’ll see.”
In addition to McCumber’s 68, the Gators were aided by rounds of 1-over 72 from T.J. Vogel and Michael Furci.
One shot behind McCumber and Connors, with rounds of 69, were Oklahoma’s Will Kropp, Illinois’ Thomas Pieters and Iowa’s Joseph Winslow, while Sooner Abraham Ancer was among the players at 70.
Niether McCumber nor Connors made a bogey. McCumber made birdie at holes 7, 10 and 18, while Connors birdies Nos. 1, 9 and 13.
Kropp’s round consisted of three birdies, three bogeys and an eagle on the par-5 17th. Winslow and Pieters each totaled five birdies against three bogeys.
Oklahoma, at 6-over 290, followed Florida. Other top teams from the morning were Iowa, Florida State and Central Florida, while Kent State came in at 293. Next, at 295, were Illinois, East Carolina and Georgia, the 2011 NCAA runner-up.
“We have two freshmen, a sophomore and two seniors so it was good to get that first round under our belts and play decent,” said Iowa coach Mark Hankins. “The golf course was perfect. There were some pretty tough pins out there, but overall I think we did a pretty good job, especially Winslow. Right now we just have to keep hanging in there and expect to be close at the end.”
Following three rounds of stroke play, the field will be cut to the low eight teams who will move into a match-play bracket beginning Friday. The semifinal round is set for Saturday and the match to determine this year’s national champion starts Sunday morning.