Rahm, Arizona State take early lead after first round of NCAA championships
MILTON, Ga. -- Joe Rahm shot a 61 to help Arizona State take a four-stroke lead after the first round of the NCAA men's golf championship on Tuesday.
Rahm, who was one-stroke off the NCAA championship record, said he has never putted better.
"This is really similar to a couple of the European courses that I love," he said after carding 10 birdies and a bogey. "I love the grass, I love the way it is set up."
Duke's Michael Schnacher shot a 60 in 2007.
The Sun Devils finished at 10-under 270 on the Capital City Club's 7,319-yard, par 70 Crabapple course. Georgia Tech (274) was second, followed by Alabama (275), Illinois and California (277).
Rahm, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, was four strokes up on Oklahoma's Abraham Ancer (65) and five on Cal's Brandon Hagy (66).
After three days of stroke play, the individual champion will be crowned and the eight lowest-scoring teams will advance to a match-play tournament to decide the national team champion.
Top-ranked Cal started slowly, but rallied on the way in, and the Bears remain the overwhelming favorite to win.
"There's absolutely a bulls-eye," said Hagy, who birdied three of his final four holes. "We've won 11 of 13 tournaments, and everyone wants to beat us. If there had been discussion about who was the No. 1 team, it takes a little bit of the bulls-eye off of you, but we're definitely the No. 1 team. All 29 teams want to take a crack at us."
That includes Alabama, which lost to Texas in the championship last spring, and Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets failed last season to qualify for nationals for just the second time in 24 seasons. There was a big sigh of relief when Georgia Tech qualified out of a tough Tallahasee regional 10 days earlier.
That combined with the Yellow Jackets' familiarity with Crabapple, where they tied Cal for the PING/Golfweek Preview title last fall, served them well Tuesday even though Georgia Tech does not have a golfer with previous NCAA championship experience.
By contrast, this is the fourth NCAA championship tournament for Cal's Max Homa, the third for Hagy and Michael Weaver, and the second for No. 1-ranked Michael Kim and Joel Stalter.
"I think there had to be some form of comfort knowing what was out here waiting [Tuesday] because we've played here so much," Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said. "I think if we'd rolled in here and we had had maybe Cal's year and we're No. 1 and you've got to win at home and all that stuff, it would be a bigger deal.
"But there's nobody picking us. There's no expectations on these guys externally that I don't think they're okay with. I think theirs are probably larger than anybody else's."
Mickelson doesn't seem to mind the idea of playing the underdog card.
The Sun Devils were the fifth and final team to qualify out the Tempe regional. The younger brother of PGA star Phil Mickelson likes his team's chances to advance, however, with Rahm on the roster.
"This is a course that suits him well because he hits it extremely long and extremely straight, and he's a hell of a putter," Mickelson said. "He's extremely confident . . . one time out of 10 that will get him in trouble, but the other nine he plays shots that I can't even see, like my brother.
"We kind of have a chip on our shoulder because . . . some people were kind of saying that we only made it because we hosted our regional. So we came in with the attitude of not only are we going to prove them wrong, but we're going to fly under the radar. It might be a little tough to fly under the radar now."