When Scottie Scheffler pulled his tee shot on the seventh hole Monday, he figured the ball was headed for a hazard, a costly development that would stall his momentum.
Instead, he received a nice bounce. Then Scheffler, pairing skill with that good fortune, hit a wedge to within a foot of the hole, made his third birdie and went on to shoot a 5-under par 66 to take the opening round lead of the NCAA tournament’s Austin Regional at UT Golf Club.
“That seventh hole was the turning point,” Scheffler, a junior, said. The first-round 66 tied Scheffler’s best round of the season.
Fellow Longhorn Doug Ghim is among four players tied for second, two shots back at 3-under in the 54-hole event.
A third Longhorn, Gavin Hall, is in a four-way tie for sixth at 2-under. Also in that group at 2-under is Wake Forest’s Will Zalatoris, the top player in this regional with a No. 4 national computer ranking, according to golfstat.com.
Those three paced Texas, seeded third in the region, to the team lead at 7-under, five strokes better than Ole Miss. Oklahoma State, the No. 1 seed in the 14-team region, is in third place at 3-over. Wake Forest, the region’s No. 2 seed, is 17 shots back at plus-10. Only Zalatoris among Wake Forest players shot better than a 74.
Each team has five golfers, with the best four scores counting each day.
Five schools from the region will advance to the 30-team NCAA Championship, which will be held May 26-31 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Gove Ill.
Texas, the NCAA runner-up in 2016, has won its last two events, the UT Longhorn Shootout and the Big 12 championship.
“I think our guys feel a little bit of momentum coming off the conference championship,” Texas coach John Fields said. “There were five top-15 teams at the Big 12 this year. To come out on top was definitely a motivator.”
Scheffler has shot par or better in 20 of his 31 his rounds this season. He made six birdies and a bogey Monday.
Ghim, a junior, grabbed his share of second place with a 4-foot birdie putt on 18. He made a much longer birdie putt – 30 feet – on the second hole.
“I just played solid,” Ghim said.
Hall, a senior, was particularly pleased with the recovery he made after an errant tee shot at the par-4 sixth stopped next to the cart path.
Standing on the path, Hall hit a 3-iron 220 yards and made a 10-foot birdie.
Though Texas won the Longhorn Shootout and leads the Austin Regional, Fields said his team does not necessarily have a home-course advantage.
“It’s so unusual for us to play on our home golf course in a competitive situation, so it’s a little bit more pressure,” Fields said. “In the meantime, the course knowledge is significant. Those two things balance out.”