After two straight days of team scores below 300, the No. 2 men’s golf team found itself in great position at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational in Windermere, Fla. The Card was in fourth place just behind LSU and North Florida and within shouting distance of No. 1 Texas.
While Stanford slipped up down the stretch on day three, ultimately settling for seventh place in one of the more competitive fields this fall, there were plenty of bright spots and reasons to believe that this year’s Card might have a shot at the program’s ninth NCAA Championship.
Much of the optimism stems from Stanford’s newest freshman phenom, Patrick Rodgers. Playing in just his third collegiate tournament, the Avon, Ind. native made his third-straight top-10, shooting an even-par 216 over 54 holes to finish in fourth place.
Texas has a pretty good freshman of its own in Jordan Spieth, who finished 32nd at the PGA Tour’s HP Byron Nelson Championship in May. He ran away from the field last weekend to win by eight strokes.
That could mean that the battle for a title could potentially come down to how the two freshmen handle the pressure of postseason golf. But if this week’s results were any indication, the play further down the ladder will be just as important to the team title.
Stanford’s top three players all finished in the top 10, quite an accomplishment in a stacked field. Rodgers was fourth, junior Andrew Yun (218, two-over par) finished in a tie for sixth and sophomore Cameron Wilson tied for 10th with a four-under 220.
But the drop-off to the Cardinal’s fourth scorer was steep–senior David Chung shot three consecutive 79s to finish in 59th place at 21 over par. And junior Steve Kearney had a final round 82 to drop him into a tie for 68th at +26.
The Longhorns, who won the tournament by a whopping 26 strokes over second-place LSU, had the top two scorers in Spieth and Dylan Frittelli, but also had two players finish in 20th and 42nd place, signaling that there is definitely a chance for other teams to go toe-to-toe if they can string together three solid rounds.
Both Chung and Kearney have plenty of experience–Chung was a First Team All-Pac-10 selection as a sophomore and Kearney performed well last season at both the Pac-10 Championships and NCAA Central Regional.
The Cardinal will need solid performances from both if it wants to challenge Texas for the title and hold off challenges from No. 3 Oregon, No. 7 California and No. 10 Washington in the conference chase.
Yun, too, could have done even better than his final position indicated. A final-round 76 cost the 2011 PING First Team All-American, who slipped from a tie for second with Rodgers before the round into sixth place. A double bogey on the par-four 14th slowed his late charge after he bogeyed two of the first four holes and played the front-nine in three over par.
If he can channel the energy that saw him make five birdies without a bogey on the back-nine in round one, as well as an eagle on the par-5 seventh hole, the Cardinal can be a very dangerous beast on the course, especially if Wilson can continue a stellar sophomore campaign.
The fall season continues for Stanford on Monday, as the team will play at The Gifford Collegiate Championship at CordeValle, right down the road in San Martin, Calif.