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Another wild day for NCAA golfers at Prairie Dunes

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, May 25, 2014, at 9:26 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, May 29, 2014, at 7:14 a.m.

— The first day was a test of patience. The second day was a challenge of endurance. The third day was a mixture of both.

Weather delays, high winds and cancellations converged on Prairie Dunes Country Club on Sunday, making for an interesting afternoon at the NCAA Golf Championship — not that anyone expected normal.

"This tournament has been one of the longest, most grueling weeks I can ever remember in golf," Oregon coach Casey Martin said. "I have never experienced a tournament quite like this. Our wave has had delay after delay, spending the entire day at the golf course. We have had no sleep, it feels like. My guys are grinding and they are trying, but we are exhausted."

The Ducks were pushed further than most, as they fell out of contention at 17-over par. The field of 158 golfers was split into two groups following the conclusion of the second round at about 4 p.m. The bottom 15 teams and three individuals stayed on the course until sundown, completing half of their third round before play was suspended.

But the top 15 teams and three individuals spent the evening resting for their final 18 holes, which will be played Monday afternoon.

The top eight teams will qualify for match play, while the top individual will claim medalist honors. The individual championship was supposed to be decided over 72 holes, but uncooperative weather forced tournament officials to reduce stroke play to 54 holes.

"I would have maybe liked to know about it a little bit sooner," South Carolina coach Bill McDonald said. "It was tough on the kids, finding out in the middle of the second round. But I understand the committee is in a tough spot, doing everything they can. It was just tough on the kids to go out thinking, especially with weather rolling in, that cuts may be made after 36 holes."

Most struggled in those conditions. More than 40 golfers began the day under par. That number now stands at 26.

With distractions, and wind, picking up, golfers faced a more difficult challenge than they did on Friday or Saturday.

Nowhere was that more noticeable than with South Carolina’s Will Starke. He found trouble everywhere, shooting 78 a day after he took the lead with a 64.

"We knew that once things dried out that the course was going to get the upper hand," Prairie Dunes general manager Scott Nelson said. "It is going to get everyone somewhere. I’ve seen a lot of golfers taking eights and 10s out here.

"The primary rough is almost four inches now, and if you hit it in deep rough you aren’t going to find it. You are two bad swings away from a 10 on every hole.

"Everyone was concerned coming in that this golf course might be suspect for this quality of player. But we have held a lot of championships here and it has held up every time."

Stanford will carry a four-shot lead into the final round of stroke play at 12 under. UCLA holds the all important eighth position at 3 over. Stanford’s Cameron Wilson possesses a one-shot lead at 6 under, but five golfers are within two.

The bottom half of the field will return to finish the third round at 7 a.m. Monday. The top half will tee off at noon.

Anything can happen if conditions remain difficult. One team that is hoping for high scores is Texas. The Longhorns moved up to 14th thanks to a second round of 2 under in which Beau Hossler and Toni Hakula both shot 68. Hossler highlighted the afternoon by making a five-footer on his final hole to clinch a spot in the top 15.

"It was a pressure-packed round," Hossler said. "We were in 25th place to start the round. We didn’t know if there was going to be a cut or if we were going to play 36 holes. I just knew that was a big up and down on the last hole. We struggled a bit yesterday, but we knew that isn’t us.

"We said, ‘Let’s just go back out there on the first tee and hit the fairway and go from there."

South Carolina experienced the opposite, tumbling to ninth at 4 over despite holding a first-round lead.

That’s what can happen when a golf course tests your patience and endurance.

"Today was a different golf course," Matthew NeSmith said after watching one of his teammates shoot 80. "It showed its bite. The wind is up and you have got to be on if you want to score. I’m glad to be done."

Reach Kellis Robinett at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @kellisrobinett.

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