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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Vanderbilt holds lead, Penn State struggles as NCAA Championship tees off

   If you followed the NCAA Women’s Championship, which concluded Wednesday at Rich Harvest Farms, you would not be surprised to learn that lightning and rain forced a three-hour delay in the opening round of the NCAA Men’s Championship Friday.
   But even though Mother Nature seems to have some kind of bull’s-eye on Sugar Grove, Ill. lately, the cream was really rising to the top, even if all the teams didn’t complete their rounds.
   The leader is Southeast Conference champion Vanderbilt, ranked No. 4 in the latest Golfstat rankings, at 8-under-par over the 7,300-yard, par-72 Rich Harvest Farms layout, although the Commodores still have some work to do before their first round is complete.
   It was a tough day for No. 48 Penn State, which is 29th of the 30 teams after carding a 13-over 301. It wasn’t so much that the Nittany Lions played poorly, it was more that so many of the teams played well. Penn State is the lowest-ranked team in the field. But guess what? The Nittany Lions are one of the 30 that are here, which would suggest that they have been outperforming their ranking all spring.
   Penn State is not so far back that it can’t make a run at the top 15, which the team field will be cut to after Sunday’s third round. Making the top eight for match play after that might be a tall order, but the Lions just have to get a little more out of the second round than they did out of the opening round.
   Of the teams that did complete the first round, No. 20 Auburn carded a 6-under 282 and is the leader in the clubhouse, just two shots behind Vanderbilt, which could conceivably come back to the Tigers in the final holes of its opening round.
   The rest of the top eight will still have some work to do when the opening round concludes Saturday morning. No. 3 Oklahoma State, coming off an impressive win in the Austin Regional, is third at 5-under. A shot back in fourth at 4-under is top-ranked Southern California, which won the Washington Regional.
   There’s a four-way tie for fifth at 3-under among No. 5 Baylor, No. 6 LSU, which won the Baton Rouge Regional on its home course, No. 8 Illinois, the Big Ten champion, and No. 16 UNLV, the surprising winner of the West Lafayette Regional.
   Mississippi’s Braden Thornberry, a sophomore from Olive Branch, Miss., grabbed the lead in the individual chase, completing a sparkling 6-under 66. Auburn’s Jacob Solomon, a sophomore from Dublin, Calif., is a shot back in second after a 5-under 67, a big reason the Tigers were able to shoot 6-under as a team.
   Four players are tied for fourth at 4-under, although none has completed his round. The group includes Vanderbilt’s Matthias Schwab, a senior from Austria, Southern Cal’s Justin Suh, a sophomore from San Jose, Calif., LSU’s Sam Burns, a sophomore from Shreveport, La. and the top-ranked individual player by Golfstat, and Illinois’ Michael Feagles, a freshman from Scottsdale, Ariz.
   Penn State was led by junior Cole Miller, a former Northwestern Lehigh standout coming off a dazzling performance in winning the individual title at the Washington Regional. Miller opened up with a 2-over 74.
   Charles Huntzinger, a sophomore from Duluth, Ga., carded a 3-over 75, Ryan Davis, a freshman from Berkeley Heights, N.J., and sophomore JD Hughes, a Carlisle product, each had a 4-over 76 and Alec Bard, a freshman from New Hartford, N.Y., had a 79.
   Again, not bad, but not great and against this field, not bad is not going to cut it.

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