Just in case the Cardinal were still not taken seriously as a heavyweight contender in this week's Men's Golf NCAA Championship, Stanford took the field by storm on Wednesday to open the tournament with a five-under first day at the Golden Horseshoe Gold Course in Williamsburg (Va.). Stanford entered the NCAAs ranked #2 in the nation, and after 18 holes they stand alone atop the leaderboard with a two-stroke advantage over second-place Coastal Carolina.
"Guys are feeling good about their games and the gameplan that we have for this course," says Stanford head coach Conrad Ray. "We have a long way to go, however."
The NCAAs are a four-day tournament, with the 30-team field cut to a final 15 after the third round. Stanford last competed in the NCAAs in 2005 and failed to make the cut, finishing 18th. The Cardinal last won an NCAA Championship in 1994.
Wednesday may have only been the first 18 holes of a long tournament, but it was day full of high hopes and positive energy throughout for the Cardinal. It all started with junior Rob Grube, the first man on the course for Stanford. He drained a birdie on the first hole and never looked back, recording four birdies in the first six holes and sitting at five-under after the front nine. Grube finished the day at a six-under 64 on the Par 70 course, which not only paced the Cardinal but also the entire field. He sits individually in first place after the first day, two strokes ahead of Florida freshman Matthew Savage.
"It was a dream start," Grube offers. "I played really well. It was a great start for the weekend. The course is accessible. You are penalized for bad shots and rewarded for good shots."
"It helps to have a horse, and he was ours today," Ray says of Grube. "Bogey-free around the Golden Horseshoe is pretty strong. He is very focused and ready to handle anything that comes his way."
It appeared to those who were following the tournament scoring online that Grube suffered terrible trouble on the 12th hole, with an apparent triple-bogey carded on the par-three hole. Later the score was replaced with a much more benign par. An error in the live scoring marked Grube with the big number that rightfully belonged to somebody else in his group.
Teams compete with five players each in this tournament, with the low four scorers counting in each round. Grube was joined by sophomore Daniel Lim (-1), senior Zack Miller (E) and senior Matt Savage (+2) as the Cardinal's counters Wednesday. Savage, who competed with Grube two years ago in the NCAAs, looked early like he would be Stanford's high score of the day. The senior bogeyed three of his first six holes, while all four of his teammates were at or under par to that point. Savage righted the ship, however, and played the rest of the course one-under.
Stanford needed the senior to steady his game given the difficulty that erupted for the freshman Bramlett on the back nine. Bramlett may be the youngest member of the Cardinal quintet playing this week, but he has been one of the team's top performers all year. The fab frosh entered these NCAAs with the lowest scoring average (71.22) and the most Top-10 finishes (seven) for Stanford in the 2006-07 season. Bramlett on Wednesday played even through the first seven holes and birdied the eighth to enter the turn at one-under. Then a quadruple-bogey on the par-four 10th unraveled the frosh. He bogeyed five of the back nine, including a double on 12, and finished the day eight-over.
Ray looks for Bramlett to rebound on Day Two of his first NCAAs.
"He will play well tomorrow," the Cardinal coach forecasts for his freshman. "A few bad breaks and three bad swings really added up today for him. He's really hungry for a good round."
On the other end of the spectrum, Lim was Stanford's positive surprise on the opening day of these NCAAs. The unsung sophomore has scored behind Bramlett and the upperclassmen all year as the #5 or #6 (non-playing) guy on the roster. He did finish the Cardinal's last tournament on an upswing, however, with a superb six-under 66 on the final day of the West Regional two weeks ago in Tempe (Ariz.).
Lim excelled with his short game on Wednesday and showed that he is ready to play more of his best golf at the most important time of the year. His one-under 69 performance was second on the team and a huge contribution to the Cardinal's team lead.
"Daniel has been playing very solidly," Ray praises. "He is putting well, which is the secret to low scores."
Miller was two-under through five holes before a double-bogey on the sixth. He added a birdie on 14 and a bogey on 15 to stay even for the day.
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