by Rob Moseley
Oregon spent the first nine holes of this week's NCAA West Regional at Eugene Country Club shaking off some nerves. That was Thursday, when the Ducks were 9 over at the turn but played even-par golf the rest of the first round.
Friday, UO sophomore Zach Foushee, was moving day. And what a move it was by the host team.
Casey Martin's team was the only one among the 13 participants to shoot even par as a group in the second round, and Foushee was nearly the low individual until a couple of late bogeys. Oregon enters Saturday's final round comfortably in third place in the regional, which will send its top five finishers to the NCAA Championships.
"We played great today," Martin said. "The course was so difficult, you're never quite sure what's good. But once we kind of got established, we made a few birdies, which is a huge thing out here, because you're going to make some bogeys."
Oregon ended the day where it began — and where it made the turn during Thursday's first round — at 9 over. Stanford was at 2-under 558 to lead the tournament, nine strokes ahead of Oklahoma and 11 ahead of the Ducks. South Carolina slipped to 19 over as a team, good for fourth place, while Oregon's playing partners Friday, North Florida and Houston, ended the second round tied for fifth at 23 over.
Thus does Oregon have a 14-stroke cushion between itself and fifth place entering Saturday's final round. The Ducks will be grouped with the Cardinal and Sooners on Saturday, with the first group leaving the No. 1 tee at 8:45 a.m.
"I think we're going to be fine tomorrow," UO freshman Thomas Lim said. "The start (on Thursday) was a little nerve-racking for us, just because I think we were unsure how we were going to do. But now that we've had a chance to settle in, I think we'll be good."
The Ducks were good Friday in no small part due to Lim's effort. He was diagnosed with strep throat on Wednesday, and shot a 74 on Thursday that didn't count toward Oregon's team score. He bounced back with an even-par 70 on Friday, and that despite a double bogey on No. 16 and a bogey at No. 18.
Lim said he took an anti-inflammatory prior to his round and joked that "I couldn't feel my body" during the round. But he posted five birdies on the day, curling in a 12-foot putt on the 14th hole that required a delicate touch on Eugene Country Club's lightning fast greens.
"I feel terrible still," Lim said afterward. "But I putted really well today — really, really well. I just had a couple errors coming in, but overall it was one of my best rounds in a while."
Foushee also finished the day with a bogey at No. 18, after a bogey at No. 16. He entered the final three holes at 4 under for the day, leading the field until the hiccups down the stretch.
At 1-under 139, Foushee is one of four players below par entering the final round. He and two others are six strokes behind the individual leader, top-ranked amateur Patrick Rodgers of Stanford. That's just close enough for Foushee to enter Saturday with a realistic vision of winning medalist honors.
"With Patrick Rodgers in the field, it's tough," Foushee said. "But yeah, why not?"
Brandon McIver also came in under par Friday, using a stretch of three birdies in four holes beginning at No. 12 to finish at 1-under 69. McIver, who also was under the weather Friday, is 2 over for the tournament, in a tie for 10th place.
McIver had a nice par save on the par-3 fifth hole, after his tee shot nearly rolled off the front of the green into a creek. Oregon's four scoring players Thursday played the hole in 4 over, but on Friday — with Martin camped out on the tee box — the Ducks carded four pars.
For the second day in a row, Sulman Raza contributed a round to Oregon's team score Friday, just days after having to win a qualifier in practice just for the right to compete at regionals. Raza birdied No. 18 to finish the back nine at 1 under in the second round, and at 6-over 146 for the tournament.
Raza took a triple bogey on the front, for the second day in a row, this time on the par-4 eighth hole. That put him 4 over for the day, with teammate Jonathan Woo struggling as well to that point, at 5 over through eight.
One of those two was going to count toward Oregon's team score, and to the Ducks' good fortune Raza righted the ship. He followed his triple bogey at No. 8 with nine straight pars, before finishing with a flourish at No. 18.
"He does that a lot, in the sense of handling adversity," Martin said. "He does something and then weathers it. That's been big for him to hang in there, because that's the deal with college golf — you've got to be able to cover when someone has a bad day."
Entering Saturday, Martin will closely watch Lim, and wonder if he's the player Oregon will need to cover in the final round due to his illness. The Ducks probably will need Woo to bounce back from a round of 8 over Friday, and for Foushee, McIver and Raza to continue their steady play, despite playing in the spotlight sure to be focused on Rodgers and the Cardinal.
"We're going to be thrown into the fire tomorrow, but this is the kind of pressure you want, to try to make nationals and be at your home place," Martin said. "This is the kind of pressure you play golf for, and I think the guys will do great."