CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The top seven teams are separated by 10 shots here at the Chapel Hill regional.
In other words, no spot is safe.
Stanford may have recorded the low round of the day by nine shots Friday, but it still holds only a one-shot lead over Charlotte and is just eight shots clear of the all-important fifth spot. The low five teams after Saturday's final round advance to the NCAA finals later this month.
“You can’t slow down in this deal,” Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. “You have to put the gas pedal down. We have been in this position before, both on the other side of it and leading, so they will handle themselves hopefully and believe that every putt you make now is one you don’t have to make later.”
Among the teams that might lose a little sleep Friday are No. 1-ranked Florida State and host North Carolina. Most expected those two squads to cruise, but through two rounds the Seminoles (-6) and Tar Heels (-1) are third and tied for sixth, respectively.
Let’s start with FSU.
No. 1 man Jack Maguire turned in a second-round 69 Friday, but that’s the lowest score for any Seminole this week. If not for solid contributions from fourth man Josh Lee, who is 1 under through two days, Florida State could be in real trouble.
The Seminoles, though, can take comfort in the fact that they've been within five shots of the lead heading into the final round of every tournament they've played this season, and won six times.
“These guys know what to do,” coach Trey Jones said. “They’ll be trying to win the tournament (Saturday).”
Every team feels pressure this time of year. Even the top team in the land isn't immune to that.
“As good as the guys have played this year, how do they handle it when they get discouraged and things aren’t going their way?” Jones said. “We’ve been on offense so much this year.”
North Carolina, meanwhile, has struggled mightly on its home course.
Standout freshman Ben Griffin made a triple bogey on his last hole Friday to spoil what had been a 5-under round. Only one UNC player, Will Register, who held the first-round lead after an opening 66, is under par after 36 holes at Finley Golf Course.
“I’m glad we’re still in it,” coach Andrew Sapp said, “because we’ve played very poorly to this point. We’ve just been playing too conservatively. We’re not attacking like we normally do.”
Part of that is playing in front of the home crowd, with all of the expectations to succeed. The Tar Heels have combined to make three doubles and a triple so far, and those are costly miscues in an event where every shot is magnified.
This looks nothing like the confident team that won their home event in the fall here by 23 shots.
“I just need to remind the guys of how well we’ve played here,” Sapp said.
Every other team will be freewheeling Saturday.
Charlotte is the No. 9 seed and ranked 50th in the country. The 49ers took the first-round lead with a 275, then followed it up with a 291.
The good news is that they’re still within a shot of the lead. The bad? They’re only seven shots clear of a pair of fourth-place squads.
"We tried to play with no expectations entering this week," coach Ryan Cabbage said, "and that won't change now."
Florida didn’t realistically expect to be in this position either, not after No. 2 man Alejandro Tosti was left home with bacterial meningitis. Instead, the Gators have rallied around the crew that they do have here, and at 6-under 570 they’re squarely in the mix for one of the five spots.
Kennesaw State is the No. 4 seed in the region, but the Owls are on the bubble after two rounds at 3-under 573. Austin Vick’s 69 and Jimmy Beck’s 70 helped keep their team within striking distance with one day to go.
“Everybody knows what’s at stake,” coach Jay Moseley said. “The nerves are just something you’ve got to learn to embrace.”
Clemson appeared to be on its way to shooting itself out of the tournament when four of its players signed for a 74 or worse on Friday. Then came Austin Langdale, whose career-best 68 put the Tigers two shots out of fifth place.
“With all of the teams this close,” coach Larry Penley said, “it may come down to a swing or two. You’ve just gotta have fun with it, but you can almost want it too much sometimes. You’ve just gotta be able to channel it.”
The final round of NCAA regionals is always the most stressful day of the year. With so many teams in the mix, this site should be particularly entertaining.