Riviera Country Club has a serenity about it that’s unfamiliar to the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles. However, the top of the leaderboard at Riviera this week has been organized chaos.
For most of the three rounds of stroke play at the NCAA men’s golf championship, UCLA and Alabama have been in a constant back-and-forth battle for the top spot of the leaderboard ““ a spot Alabama eventually won, edging out UCLA by two strokes.
“Alabama is an extremely good team. … It just came down to a few shots here or there at the very end and that’s the difference between winning and losing,” coach Derek Freeman said of the seemingly two-team competition for first place. With more golf to be played, Freeman stresses that the team’s attention remains forward. “We put ourselves in a position to make it in the top eight, so now it’s a new tournament.”
The Bruins’ second-place finish in stroke play won’t affect anything other than their seeding heading into match play.
The top eight teams from the last three rounds of stroke play advance to match play, which begins today. In match play, teams go head-to-head and at least three of their five golfers must win their individaul matchups for the team to advance further.
UCLA’s success was dictated heavily by the impressive finishes of sophomore Patrick Cantlay and junior Pedro Figueiredo, who both played their best golf of the tournament on the back nine holes on Thursday. Figueiredo shot a 69(-2), while Cantlay added a score of 66(-5), the lowest round of any golfer in the championship.
In the final nine holes on Thursday, Cantlay had a strong showing on Riviera’s greens, which led to five birdies and his low score.
“I just started putting better,” Cantlay said. “A couple putts went in and that always helps.”
Out for revenge
Last year, the Bruins’ season ended prematurely when they lost in the first round of match play in the NCAA Championship.
Heading into match play this year, UCLA finds itself in a similar position, finishing stroke play near the top of the leaderboard and poised to contend for a national title.
While the Bruins fell short last year, they enter match play today as confident as ever, with the same mindset they had when they were atop the stroke play leaderboard a year ago.
“I don’t know if anything is really that different,” junior Pontus Widegren said. “We have to be ready right off the bat tomorrow and get ourselves a good start. … It’s always nice to get the momentum from the start and be able to put pressure on your opponent.”
After struggling to break out throughout the year, sophomore Anton Arboleda may have had his best performance of the season.
Arboleda found himself on top of the individual leaderboard Tuesday after posting a first-round score of 67(-4), one of the lowest of the tournament.
Despite not being able to keep up that pace throughout the next two rounds of stroke play, Arboleda finished tied for 14th and the Bruins are hoping his early-round success will continue on into match play.
“It gives him a ton of confidence. He’s had success (at Riviera) and he knows this golf course,” Freeman said. “All of our guys understand that it’s a new animal (Friday) and we’ve got to do a great job of finishing this. Whoever we get to play, we’ll be excited to do it.”