McNealy (78) shoots worst round of the year at NCAAs

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BRADENTON, Fla. – With the sun setting at Concession, Stanford sophomore Maverick McNealy made a beeline for the practice putting green for an emergency session.

It was that kind of day on the greens for the country’s No. 1 college player. 

McNealy shot his worst score of the year (by three shots) Friday at the NCAA Championship, carding a 6-over 78 that left him well off the pace after the first round. 

His biggest issue came on the greens, where he struggled all day to match the proper read and pace. Missing almost every putt low, he had a pair of three-jacks in his first three holes and went out in 41.

After the opening round McNealy is tied for 108th, 10 shots back of Illinois’ Thomas Detry and USF’s Claudio Correa, two players who have logged plenty of rounds here.

“I feel like I hit the ball better than I did at regionals (where he won by two) but I really struggled on the greens,” McNealy said afterward. “Obviously it’s a really disappointing start, but hopefully this is a long tournament for us and we have plenty of time to get it back.”

McNealy, who has won an NCAA-best six times this season, mostly had trouble adapting to the Bermudagrass greens. At home in California, of course, he plays mostly on bentgrass and poa annua. 

Each of the past two days at Concession he’s gotten more comfortable on the greens, he said, but a potential deadline looms Sunday. 

At issue now for Stanford is the secondary cut to the low 15 teams after 54 holes. The Cardinal shot 22-over 310 and were 29th out of the 30-team field. If they miss the cutoff, McNealy would have to be inside the top 40 individually to play in Monday’s final round.

Keep in mind that earlier this month, after a poor putting performance in the first round of NCAA regionals, McNealy came back the next day and shot 67. He eventually won by two. 

“I know I’m going to come out and play better tomorrow,” he said, “and I’m sure the rest of the team will, too.”