In any sport, there are times when rankings can be thrown out the window and seen for what they really are: simple numbers and calculations, oftentimes not worth the paper on which they’re printed. In golf, especially, rankings and stroke averages often aren’t good indicators of tournament performance and can largely be ignored because of the great parity the game carries. But, in the saga of collegiate golf, there are events where the numbers are indeed right, and the 2013 Pac-12 men’s golf championship was one of them. Just call it The Rankings Strike Back.
No. 1 California repeated as Pac-12 champions — beating out No. 5 UCLA and No. 6 Washington — while the No. 8 Stanford men’s golf team inched ahead of Arizona State for fourth. The Cardinal improved on its sixth place finish a year ago but extended its winless streak at the conference tournament to 19 years.
“We were happy with [Wednesday’s] round. We actually made a little bit of a comeback and were able to secure fourth all alone in the team competition,” head coach Conrad Ray said. “Obviously, the Pac-12 is stacked in terms of talent and rankings this year, so fourth isn’t all bad.”
“Stacked” is an understatement, with seven Pac-12 teams in the nation’s top 50. The conference also boasts seven of the nation’s top 15 players. Oddly enough, No. 1 Michael Kim of Cal and No. 5 Patrick Rodgers of Stanford weren’t really factors in this year’s tournament.
Rodgers, the reigning Pac-12 Rookie of the Year, wasn’t able to break par in the last three rounds of the event, and things went from bad to worse on his final hole of the fourth round, the 498 yard, par-4 18th.
“Patrick Rodgers had a bad break on the last hole making a double bogey, but he still had a very nice finish,” Ray said. “He hit a rake near the bunker on the 18th hole, and his ball caromed off the green and had a really tough chip and ended up with a double. So minus a couple of those shots, he played decently well [Wednesday].”
The sophomore out of Avon, Ind., finished in a tie for 11th at 7-over par, failing to improve upon his eighth-place performance last year.
With Rodgers off his game, junior Cameron Wilson stepped up as Stanford’s leader for the final two rounds. In a tie for seventh place and within two shots of third place after 54 holes, Wilson wasn’t able to maintain his consistency yesterday, recording four bogeys, three birdies and his only double bogey of the tournament on the par-4 2nd hole.
“I was impressed with Cameron Wilson’s play this week, finishing ninth overall in a very strong field,” commented Ray. “He really played solid and was in control of his game. I think he felt that, if a few more putts would’ve dropped, he’d been right there in contention.”
A name surprisingly absent from the top of the leaderboard was Stanford’s senior Andrew Yun. The defending Pac-12 individual champion failed to break par in any of the tournament’s four rounds but did shoot his best score of 1-over 71 in Wednesday’s final round, moving up 15 places into a tie for 29th.
Fellow senior Steve Kearney had a great end to his final conference event, carding a 2-under 68 in the fourth round, tied for the best of the day. His four-birdie, two-bogey performance left him tied for 24th, his best finish at the Pac-12 Tournament. His only other appearance at the Pac-12s was a tie for 30th in 2011.
“Steven Kearney’s round is of note, tying the low round of the day as our fifth man this week,” Ray remarked. “68 today on a very, very difficult golf course and very difficult set-up was a great round and was a huge part of us moving up the leaderboard today.”
Junior Shane Lebow and freshman David Boote, both playing their first conference tournament, tied for 45th and 66th, respectively, in the 72-man field.
Next up for the Cardinal is the NCAA Regional, starting May 16th at a location to be determined. The team finished fourth at Regionals on its home course in 2012, advancing to the NCAA Championships after missing out on the dance the year before.
“We’ll know our Regional assignment for NCAAs this coming Monday, so we’re looking forward to finding out where we’re going and creating some momentum going into the rest of the postseason,” Ray said.
Ray believes a strong start will benefit his team by allowing it to play as a frontrunner, a position in which he believes the players are more comfortable.
“I think in terms of looking forward to Regionals, we’re definitely going to work on our day-to-day consistency,” he added. “In our first round at Regionals, we would love to get out of the blocks in good fashion and post a good score the first day. This week, we weren’t able to do that. We had a tough first round and were kind of chasing the leaders from that point forward.”
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 “at” stanford.edu.