by Rob Moseley
As the seventh seed for this week's NCAA men's golf regional at Eugene Country Club, the Oregon Ducks had work to do beginning Thursday. Specifically, there were two spots to make up in the team standings if they wanted to finish in the top five and qualify for the NCAA Championships.
Over the course of Friday and Saturday, 36 more maddening holes of golf — through thick rough and over lightning fast greens — stand between the Ducks and that goal. But the UO men's golf team made up those two spots in Thursday's first round, recovering from a shaky start to shoot 9 over for the day and stand alone in fifth place in the 13-team field.
The Ducks were 9 over at the turn, having shot a collective plus 4 on the devilish par-3 fifth hole, with its water-protected green. But Oregon rallied with an even-par back nine, finishing the day a stroke ahead of Houston for the coveted fifth spot in the team standings.
"That was an important finish for us, because we were in deep trouble early," UO coach Casey Martin said. "But we kept it together, and we're in position. Now we've just got to keep doing it."
Zach Foushee led the tightly bunched Ducks with a 1-over 71. Foushee and Brandon McIver (73) shot even par on the back side, and Jonathan Woo (72) was 1 over after the turn. Sulman Raza, who played his way onto the regional squad in a qualifying round during practice earlier in the week, went 1 under on the back nine to finish at 3-over 73.
Freshman Thomas Lim left a birdie putt on the lip at No. 18, and finish with a 74. His score Thursday did not count to Oregon's team score of 9-over 289, with the top four from each team contributing to the team score each of the three days.
Stanford led the team race after day one at 4-under 276, four strokes ahead of Oklahoma. South Carolina and North Florida each shot 6-over 286 to finish the day three strokes ahead of the host Ducks.
Oregon practices regularly at Eugene Country Club, but Martin said earlier in the week that the championship conditions — longer rough, faster greens — would be an issue. The Ducks got a preview during a practice round Monday, and the course was even tougher Thursday.
"It's really hard, so you just get exposed," Martin said. "You hit a bad shot, you're going to pay for it. Normally out here, there's a little bit of grace, where you can get away with some stuff. But you're not getting away with it now."
Just 10 players in the field of 75 finished Thursday under par, led by Stanford's Patrick Rodgers at 4-under 66. Tennessee's Oliver Goss, winner of the 2013 U.S. Amateur and the only amateur to make the cut at The Masters this spring, was in a group at 3 over.
Foushee put together the cleanest card of the day for Oregon, with two birdies and three bogeys. He was one of two Ducks to find water at the problematic fifth hole, but he got up and down to save bogey and responded with a birdie at No. 6.
Foushee said familiarity with the course played to his advantage; it wasn't the first time, for example, that he has found water at No. 5, so he didn't overreact to the situation.
"I just kind of imagined myself playing out here with my buddies," Foushee said. "Just going out and scoring.
"That kind of got my round going. I'd done that before a few times, so I knew what to do."
Woo also avoided major trouble, with a birdie and three bogeys. But McIver and Lim each double bogeyed No. 5, and Raza had to overcome a triple bogey at No. 3.
"There were some nerves in the first few holes," Raza said. "I definitely felt it the first couple. But once you make pars, you settle yourself a little bit."
Other than his triple at No. 3, Raza played the rest of the round at even par, and he had three birdies on the back side. Raza went from nearly not playing in the regional to scoring for the Ducks on Thursday.
"It feels good to contribute to the team," Raza said. "I definitely feel like I left a few shots out there, but I'm satisfied with my score. I think we're in good position."