Marathon day looms for many top teams at NCAAs

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BRADENTON, Fla. – Some of the top teams have as many as six holes to complete Monday after the third round of the NCAA Championship was suspended because of weather. 

Play will resume at 7 a.m. ET.

The fourth and final round of qualifying is tentatively scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Those tee times were already moved up 90 minutes because of the threat of inclement weather in the afternoon. Golf Channel’s live coverage will begin at 12:30 p.m. 

Tournament officials sent off the teams placed 16-30 after 36 holes in the morning, followed by teams 1-15 in the afternoon.

The NCAA has said that the national championship should be treated like a traditional tournament, with the leaders going off last. But nationals is not like a traditional tournament, at least for the first three days. It’s a qualifier, with teams jockeying for position and trying to crack the top 15 and, then, the top 8 for the match play.

The current format rewards the teams that have not played as well (16-30) while sending out the squads that have played the best (1-15) in more difficult afternoon conditions. In no situation should a team prefer to be 16th instead of 15th heading into a round. 

It’s proven to be a massive advantage to play in the calmer, cooler, morning conditions this week – through two rounds, those in the morning wave have fared about three shots better – and it appears that at least two teams will play their way inside the top 15.

UCLA shot a championship-best 8-under 280 and is currently tied for eighth. South Carolina, after shooting even par, looks safe as well with nine teams still on the course. SMU and Washington are currently tied for the 15th spot after playing in the morning.

One of the teams guaranteed to exit early is No. 3 Arizona State, which bombed out after a three-round total of 39-over 903. 

The Sun Devils, who won five times this season, were in a tie for 24th when the third round was suspended.

“To have any chance to win, you have to have four guys playing well,” head coach Tim Mickelson said. “We picked a bad week to finish poorly.”

Other teams heading home are Texas Tech (+27), Oklahoma State (+32), Stanford (+35) and Oklahoma (+46). 

The NCAA has said that it will once again revisit the issue of early-late starters later this year. In the 2009 championship, the top teams went off first, but it created a death march at the end of the day with the teams playing for nothing but pride. The format was changed the following year.    

The tweaks to the schedule will make for a long day for the top teams, many of whom will have to play a few holes first thing Monday, then turn around two hours later and play the most stressful round of the year.

There is also the possibility for several playoffs, for the top 15, the low nine individuals on a non-qualifying team, and also the top 8. All of those require time in an already packed schedule.

Illinois coach Mike Small, whose team still has a few holes to wrap up in the third round, might have had the best outlook on the situation.

“Just tell me the rules and I’ll follow them,” he said.