Golf Halfway Home, Still Leads NCAAs

At the halfway point of the 2007 Men's Golf NCAA Championship, Stanford is still the team to beat. The Cardinal shot two-under Thursday and stand at seven-under through 36 holes, one stroke ahead of second place. The Golden Horseshoe Gold Course gave the Card all they could handle early before several players rallied to send Stanford under par. One more round remains before the field is cut.

Stanford Men's Golf for the second day at the 2007 NCAA Championship is atop the leaderboard.  At seven-under for the tournament, the Cardinal are one stroke ahead of second-place Minnesota, who shot four-under on Thursday.  In third place after 36 holes is Coastal Carolina, five strokes behind Stanford after shooting one-over.

Those top three contenders are grouped together and will be the first to tee off Friday.  The third day of this four-day tournament will determine the cut for Saturday's final round, when only 15 of the 30 teams will battle.  Friday's tee time in Williamsburg (Va.) is 7 A.M., which is equivalent to 4 A.M. Stanford time.  That might be trouble for Cardinalmaniacs™ on the West Coast hoping to follow the live scoring and video coverage at www.golfstat.com, but the team is looking forward to the championship paring and first chance at the greens.

"The early time is a bonus," maintains Cardinal head coach Conrad Ray, who was a member of Stanford's last National Championship squad in 1994.  "It's nice to be the front runner and try and go out to post a number everyone else can chase."

The rest of the field gave chase when Stanford faltered out of the gate on Thursday, with four of its five golfers over par through the first five holes.  The assigned schedule started the first-place Cardinal playing the back nine of the course, starting with the 10th hole.   The first three holes on the back nine have been big trouble in these NCAAs, with Stanford a combined +11 on holes #10, #11 and #12 the first two days.

"Long par-four, tight par-four and a long par-three over water - all into the wind with tricky greens," Ray describes of the treacherous trio.  "All of these things usually add up to more bogeys than birdies."

Battered and beaten mercilessly on the first day (Wednesday) by these holes was freshman Joseph Bramlett, who recorded a quadruple-bogey on 10 and a double-bogey on 12.  From agony to ecstasy, Bramlett was the only player to have any success on these holes to start Day Two.  He birdied 11 and 12 and then went three-under after 15.  Bramlett finished the day as Stanford's low scorer (-2) one day after being a non-counter (+8).

Ray told The Bootleg after the freshman's nightmare first round that Bramlett would play well on Thursday.  We can add "soothsayer" to the résumé of the Cardinal coach who has guided Stanford to an historic season and has the squad 36 holes from a National Championship.

"His play all year and his competitive nature made him an easy pick for today's low round," says the confident coach.

Most remarkable was the fact that the same holes which ground Bramlett into a bloody pulp Wednesday gave birth to his best scores on Thursday.  He was nine-over on holes 10-18 the first day, with no birdies and bogeys or worse on five holes.  Less than 24 hours later, Bramlett played bogey-free golf on that same nine with a three-under performance.

"A few more solid shots and a few better breaks," Ray explains of the turnaround.  "And the rest is in the books."

Bramlett's reversal was the feel-good story on Thursday, though it was generally a challenging day for the first-place Cardinal.  All five players notched three or more bogeys, and nobody enjoyed anywhere close to the success that junior Rob Grube demonstrated on Wednesday with his six-under.  The four counters for Stanford on the second day of these NCAAs were Bramlett (-2), senior Zack Miller (-1), senior Matt Savage (E) and Grube (+1).

Indeed, it was a difficult day for much of the field.  Only two teams who went under Wednesday were able repeat that feat Thursday.  The challenges are expected to mount on Friday and Saturday, with no mercy for the weak.

"Tougher hole locations and some more breeze equaled higher scores," offers Ray.  "It should continue to be a stronger test each day."

The only three players for Stanford who have scored both days are the three upperclassmen in attendance: Miller, Savage and Grube.  Not only the most experienced, that trio also competed on Stanford's NCAA team two years ago.

The battle-tested Savage in particular is earning the "Cardiac Card" nickname for his rallies each of the two days at Golden Horseshoe.  On Wednesday, he suffered three early bogeys but played one-under the rest of the course.  His mettle was tested again Thursday with a worse start and a more magnificent finish.

"Matt Savage has the heart of a lion!" Ray exclaims.  "I think he was plus-four and got it back to even."

After an early string of bogey/double-bogey/bogey, Savage birdied five times and only suffered a single bogey.

Also finishing strong was classmate Miller, who birdied two of the final four holes to get under par for the day.  He is one-under for the tournament, quietly sitting tied for 14th place on the individual leaderboard.  Miller is tied with Grube for the least holes bogeyed (five) through two days on the Stanford roster.  Grube's one-over and five bogeys on Thursday was a letdown after his self-described "dream start" Wednesday with nary a bogey.  The junior was the low scorer at these NCAAs through 18 holes and now is tied for third at the halfway mark.

1. Stanford 553 -7
2. Minnesota 554 -6
3. Coastal Carolina 558 -2
4. East Tennessee State 560 E
5. Charlotte 562 +2
T6. Georgia Tech 563 +3
T6. UCLA 563 +3
T8. Oklahoma State 566 +6
T8. Texas 566 +6
10. Alabama 567 +7

T3. Rob Grube 135 -5
T14. Zack Miller 139 -1
T29. Daniel Lim 141 +1
T44. Matt Savage 142 +2
T102. Joseph Bramlett 146 +6


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