ALLENDALE, Mich. -- Unlike Monday’s opening round, the second day of the NCAA DII national championship had perfect weather conditions during both the morning and afternoon sessions. The wind was not a factor for the majority of the day and potential storms stayed away.
However, this does not mean low scores are frantically coming in at The Meadows at Grand Valley State, especially because of the very difficult back nine.
Of the 208 birdies made by the 108-man field this week, only 55 have come on the course’s closing nine holes.
Dillon Van Essen of Saint Edward’s managed to solve the back nine, though, en route to a 3-under par 68 – the lowest score of the entire tournament. After a 6-over par 77 yesterday, the freshman began his day in a tie for 46th place, but shot all the way up to a six-way tie for sixth.
Van Essen opened his day with a birdie at the 10th, bogey at the 11th and a second birdie on No. 12. He went on to rattle off eight consecutive pars before a bogey at No. 2 ended the run. He played his final seven holes at 3-under par and explained how the secrets to going low are not overly complex, but they are much easier said than done.
“The key to playing this course is just finding the fairway and hitting as many greens as you can,” he said. “I was lucky enough to roll in a couple putts today.”
While Van Essen has the best round of the event, Nova Southeastern’s Santiago Gomez boasts the best 36-hole score. For the second time in as many days, the Colombian fired an even-par 71 and holds the individual lead by one stroke.
“I didn’t really have a good start,” Gomez, who bogeyed two of his first three holes, said. “I just kept calm on the course, tried to hit the green and give myself some chances for birdies…I just made pars, which is the most important thing on this course.”
Despite being atop the leaderboard, Gomez insists he will not let it affect his style of play.
“[I have to] keep doing the same thing,” the No. 11 golfer in the country said. “Play my own game shot by shot and hole by hole.”
Ninth-ranked Western New Mexico’s Harry Wetton turned in a 1-under par 70 and is at 1-over par (143) for the tournament, which has him in second place. A native of Bedford, England, he dropped four birdies on the front side and another at the 10th to match tournament’s second-best 18-hole score.
“It was an interesting day,” Wetton said. “The back nine I just hung in there, made a few putts, got the ball rolling and that is how it ended up.”
Nova Southeastern totaled an 11-over par 295 on day two and maintained its lead in the team standings with a 14-over par 582. Chico State remained in second place with a 14-over par 298. The Wildcats are seven strokes behind at 21-over par (589) for the tournament.
Cal State Monterey Bay took advantage of the calm conditions in the morning to slide into third place. The Otters posted an 8-over par 292 – the lowest team score of the day – and are now in third place with a 24-over par 592 entering the final round of stroke play.
Even so, head coach Jason Owen believes his team left some shots out on the course.
“We played good for probably 12 holes and then we really let it go,” he said. “We just have not played well enough yet. Hopefully, it is coming.”
In fourth place is Central Missouri, which matched Cal State Monterey Bay’s 8-over par 292, with a two-round total of 594 (+26). Barry and Lynn – last year’s champion and runner-up – are tied for fifth place with 29-over par 597s.
The Malone Pioneers (599, +31) are in seventh place and Indiana (Pa.) currently holds the eighth qualifying spot for match play with a 32-over par 600.
Armstrong Atlantic, North Alabama and Saint Edward’s are all within eight strokes of Indiana (Pa.) heading into Wednesday’s final round.
“I think tomorrow we just have to make sure we stay away from big numbers and try to play smarter off tee boxes,” North Alabama head coach Jason Vaughn said. “If we can get some putts to fall tomorrow, I think we will have a chance [to qualify for match play].”
Individually, defending national champion Tim Crouch of Florida Southern came in with an even-par 71 – one of only 10 scores at par or better on Tuesday. The nation’s No. 6-ranked golfer is in the logjam at sixth place with a 3-over par 145. All five of his birdies this week have come on the front nine.
Hot on the heels of Gomez and Wetton atop the individual leaderboard are Alistair Docherty of Chico State, Lynn’s Keith Greene and Anton Rosen of Cal State Monterey Bay. The trio has each recorded a 2-over par 144 thus far.
In addition to Van Essen and Crouch, North Alabama’s Trent Alexander, Nova Southeastern’s Mitch Farrer, Teddy Jones of Central Missouri and Justin Wiles of Chico State are tied for sixth place at 3-over par (145).