The pressure is on today for the streaky UCSB golf squad as they enter the final day of competition at the 2007 Big West Golf Championship in Rancho Santa Margarita.
After playing 36 holes yesterday, only 18 holes remain to determine which squad will walk away with an automatic bid to the regional tournament.
The course is Tijeras Creek, a par-72, 6,918-yard layout that has played host to the tournament for four years running.
This is good news for reigning champion Cal Poly, for the Mustangs not only have the most recent win at Tijeras, but also were victorious in the most recent tournament when all seven Big West squads were present. Earlier this month they took home the prize at Santa Barbara’s OGIO-Pacific Coast Intercollegiate, which included junior Chris Kirk’s 17-under-par performance in his first outing in the Mustang’s top five.
Not only did Kirk break 200 in Solvang with a collective mark of 199, but he set a school record with his opening-round 64 that plainly broadcasted his intention of holding down his starting spot.
As for the Gaucho roster, the team also boasts a talented new addition to the starting five in Santa Margarita. Freshman Matt Grush grabbed the attention of teammates by finishing in front of every member of the starting five in Solvang. He finished seventh after sitting pretty in third place at the close of day one.
Still, there was some question regarding whether or not his performance was a one-time flare-up instead of proof he was one of the Gaucho elite. Luckily for Grush, and Santa Barbara’s chances at reaching regionals, he got a chance to put those fears to rest a week later down in Scottsdale, Ariz., where his par 210 for the tournament was good enough for 11th place, second on UCSB’s squad.
But two weeks ago in Scottsdale it was another Gaucho making hearts skip a beat, as senior Joe Ryon, a starting-five mainstay, missed the individual championship by one stroke on the final hole. Ryon shot a 4-over 206 to drop to second place behind UC Davis’ Matt Marshall after leading the first two rounds of competition.
Closing out the top five for UCSB are freshman Brian Hollenbeck, along with sophomore Tony Verna and junior Marty Melcher. In their last outing, Hollenbeck shot a five-over-par 215 for a 31st-place finish, Melcher chalked up an 8-over-par 218, and Verna turned in a 10-over 220.
The good news for Gaucho fans is that Davis, who edged the Gauchos for the cup down in Scottsdale, has one more year of ineligibility in the Big West tournament. After that, UCSB will have yet another vicious rival to contend with for a trip to the regional tournament.