June 2, 2010
By Bucky Dent
Special to NCAA.com
OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – As darkness fell on Wednesday, The Honors Course’s single-round record almost went with it.
First came a 6-under par 66 by Alex Ching of the University of San Diego, tying a six-year old mark set by Michael Sim and Ryan Blaum in the 2004 Southern Amateur. Ching (135 strokes) is the individual leader after two days of competition at the NCAA Division I men’s golf championship.
While Ching’s record-tying round might have been expected, since he was the 36-hole leader last year, Henry Smart’s couldn’t have been, under any scenario.
The Virginia sophomore, whose 82 was excised from the team total on Tuesday, appeared headed for more ignominy with an opening bogey.
But he reeled off seven birdies and 10 pars after that, including a difficult up-and-down on 18, to match Ching’s 66 moments before play was suspended for the day.
It was just his second tournament of the season as a team member. Smart played three earlier events as a non-scoring individual.
“Coming into it, I was feeling a bit nervous,” he said of the first round. “I was feeling my driver and I worked with it yesterday on the range.”
For that reason, Smart said he wasn’t surprised at the way he hit the ball or his results.
“We have a lot of depth on this team,” Cavaliers coach Bowen Sargent said. “Henry’s played well but he just hadn’t been able to get into the lineup until the (East) Regional.”
Smart’s insertion into the lineup occurred only after Mac McLaughlin was sidelined for the rest of the season by illness.
Even more rewarding for Smart was that his round helped Virginia surge into contention for a spot in Friday’s match-play quarterfinals.
The Cavaliers jumped 14 spots by shooting 9-under par on the day, moving within two strokes of the coveted eighth position that will qualify for match play. Smart started Tuesday in T152 and moved up to T84. Ching’s Toreros (576) are tied with Florida in fifth place, and Florida State leads the team competition with 562 strokes.
Ching in Charge: Ching was absolutely brilliant, especially during a nine-hole stretch in which he notched seven birdies.
“It was one of those days that everything just clicked for me,” he said. “I went out there not expecting anything. Putts fell, shots fell close to the pin … I was lucky.”
Except for a double-bogey on his 12th hole — he started on the back nine — Ching was flawless. He tied the record in style with a birdie on No. 7, which has been the course’s second-toughest hole so far.
Not even a powerful thunderstorm, which stopped Ching after he birdied his 8th hole, could blunt his momentum.
“I just focused on trying to hit a good shot off the tee on 18,” Ching said when asked how he spent his time during the weather delay. “Once I did that, I felt like I had momentum going again.”
What made Ching happiest about his feat was that it boosted the Toreros 11 spots in the team standings. After starting the day tied for 16th, they soared into a deadlock for fifth with Florida.
Ching is 9-under par through 36 holes and owns a two-shot lead over Henrik Norlander (Augusta State), Peter Uihlein (Oklahoma State) and Scott Langley (Illinois), who both have a two-day total of 137.
Langley still has a hole to finish Thursday morning. He’s 5-under in the second round.
Surging Seminoles: Wesley Graham’s 4-over par 76 was the one score Florida State didn’t count Tuesday when it tied Oklahoma State for first place after the first round.
One could say that Graham bounced back quite nicely in Wednesday’s second round.
Starting with five consecutive birdies, Graham put the Seminoles (562) on a day-long birdie train at The Honors Course, giving them a five-shot lead over the Cowboys (567) before rain interrupted the round.
“I don’t think about how low I can score,” the sophomore said. “I just try to think about hitting every shot as good as I can.”
While Graham cooled after his blistering beginning, finishing at 1-under par 71, his teammates more than took up slack. Michael Hebert led the charge with a 4-under 68.
Seath Lauer and Drew Kittleson each added 70s and Brooks Koepka matched Graham’s 71 with the help of a birdie from the rough on 18.
Aggies in Trouble: Defending champion Texas A&M is in major trouble after a disastrous second round which saw it soar to 16-over par, placing it in 25th at 13-over through 36 holes.
The Aggies had to count five double bogeys and a triple on their collective scorecard. Only Cameron Peck managed to avoid going over par and his round was an even 72.
“It was a tough day to have our worst day of the year,” coach J.T. Higgins said. “We still have a chance to get into the top eight, but we are going to have to play fantastic.”
Two other Top 10 seeds from the Big XII Conference are in rough shape as well. No. 7 Texas is tied for 17th at 8-over through 36 holes and No. 10 Texas Tech, which did shoot 3-under in the second round, is T20 at 11-over for the event.