TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — While most of the other top individual contenders at the NCAA Division I men’s championship are also worried about how their teammates are doing, Matt Hill can be selfish.
Hill, who qualified as an individual, doesn’t have to worry about anyone else as he takes a share of the lead into Thursday’s third round of the weather-delayed tournament at Inverness Club.
“I don’t have to worry about my team at all, so maybe there’s a little less pressure,” said the North Carolina State golfer, who shared the lead with Russell Henley of Georgia, which is second in the team race. “But at the same time, when I’m out there I usually try to worry about myself because you can’t worry about the team. So it’s pretty much the same thing, maybe a little less pressure.”
Hill, a co-leader after the opening 18 holes, eagled his next-to-last hole while shooting a second consecutive 2-under 69 and was at 4-under 138 through 36 holes.
A contender for national player of the year, he was 1 over for the day when the players were called off the course because of the impending thunderstorm and lightning. Soon after play resumed late in the afternoon, he picked up a birdie. After four pars in a row, he pounded his drive on hole No. 8 – his 17th hole – some 345 yards. He then hit a 4-iron to 4 feet and rolled in the eagle putt.
He conceded that it was weird to be going solo.
“I’m just talking to coach only,” he said, referring to Wolfpack coach Richard Sykes. “It’s a lot more quiet, that’s for sure.”
Henley followed a 71 with a 67 to lead the Bulldogs. Georgia had a 1-over 573 total through 36 holes, leaving it five shots behind Oklahoma State. The top eight teams through 54 holes of medal play advance to match-play quarterfinals.
“I’m not the longest player although I think I’m on one of the longest teams,” Henley said. “Those guys hit it so far. But I keep it out in front of me pretty well and when I’m playing well I feel like I’m a pretty good putter. That’s basically about all I’ve been doing, keeping it in play and making a couple of putts.”
Henley also started on No. 10 and closed out his first nine holes with four consecutive birdies – three of them after 9-iron approaches put him close.
Even though he held the lead by himself at the time he finished – Hill had yet to post his eagle – Henley was aware of who he had to beat.
“It’s not like I’m dominating the field,” Henley said. “I’m looking at the scoreboard right now. Matt Hill has won seven times. On a course like this, you can’t pick who’s going to win, at least right now.”
Threatening weather suspended play for 4 1/2 hours, leaving almost half the field still on the course when darkness fell. Play will resume early Thursday morning, with the third round to follow.
The individual winner will be decided through 54 holes.
Bronson Burgoon of Texas A&M shot a 67 and was a shot behind Hill and Henley at 3-under 139. Arizona State’s Scott Pinckney had a 67 and was at 140 along with Washington’s Nick Taylor, who shot his second straight 70.
Pinckney didn’t mince words when discussing his chances.
“I’m a really good ball-striker. If I putt well I’m going to win it tomorrow,” he said when asked about his style of play. “I may have shot 67, but I shot even on the (back nine) while missing four good birdie chances and an eagle.”
At 141 were Oklahoma State’s Morgan Hoffman (69), Tennessee’s David Holmes (71), Jesper Kennegard of Arizona State (69), Oklahoma State’s Trent Leon (70) and Georgia Tech’s Cameron Tringale (67).
Still on the course, San Diego’s Alex Ching got off to a torrid start on his round before darkness suspended play. With three birdies and an eagle at No. 8, he was 5 under through 10 holes to get to 6 under for the tournament. Michigan’s Alexander Sitompul was 5 under through 10 holes and 4 under overall, while Duke’s Michael Quagliano was 4 under through 10 holes to get to 2 under.
In the team standings, the top two were followed by Texas A&M with 574 strokes, Arizona State (575), Washington (579) and Arkansas (580). Michigan, Duke, Ohio State and San Diego had incomplete scores because they were unable to finish their rounds.
Oklahoma State came in as one of the favorites to win the title. The Cowboys have done nothing to change that.
“I thought everybody was playing pretty well coming in. There’s a peak, you don’t always hit it,” coach Mike McGraw said. “But if we can control our emotion the next few days, well, we’ll see what happens.”