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Pac-12 golf: Cougars struggle in third round

PULLMAN – Despite an underwhelming day on the Palouse Ridge links, Washington State had a chance to end the second day of the Pac-12 championships in the conference’s upper half with two of its best golfers yet to finish.

Michael Anderson’s approach shot on the 18th hole fell a few yards short of the green. And after his third shot on the par-5 also fell short of the green, his long birdie putt missed by just inches and the WSU senior had to settle for par.

Finishing the day for WSU was freshman Derek Bayley, who entered the day in second place thanks to some masterful play on Monday. He bogeyed the hole, twice missing putts that would have been easy money a day ago.

It was just that kind of day for the Cougars.

“We played really bad golf today,” WSU golf coach Garrett Clegg said. “We were basically the worst team out there as far as score-wise. We might have beaten one other team (Utah) but they’re really not a factor in this tournament at all. Really, a shockingly bad day for the boys.”

After playing two rounds on Monday, the Cougars came into the day in a tie with Stanford for third place. One round later and the team is in a tie with California for seventh, although it trails Oregon State by just one stroke and Washington by three.

It was a disconcertingly bad performance by the team that practices on this course multiple times per week. While the Cougars know Palouse Ridge better than anyone, recent hot temperatures – it was 75-degrees on Tuesday – have baked the greens and made them firm, making the already fast grass faster, and other teams adjusted better.

While three Cougars finished Monday’s second round at par or better, on Tuesday only Anderson made par, and he finished even.

“I got off to a good start and then made some short-game mistakes early that made it tough to have a great round,” Anderson said.

Anderson still sits sixth on the player leaderboard, while Bayley is in a tie for eighth with Arizona’s George Cunningham.

Tournament favorite Arizona State leads the field at 1,047, nine strokes ahead of Stanford, whose Maverick McNealy is at 9-under to lead the field by four strokes. The Sun Devils have received a sterling performance from Broc Johnson, their No. 6 player who was not expected to be scored but currently leads his teammates by four strokes.

A team score in the top half would give the Cougars their highest finish in school history and that goal is still attainable. Anderson estimates that if WSU finishes in the top four the Cougars have a solid shot of making an NCAA regional.

While that goal seemed attainable after Monday’s rounds, the Cougars will begin play today 10 strokes behind fourth-place Oregon. Alex Wagner will tee off the fourth and final round for the Cougars at 8 a.m. today, hoping to begin a much better day for WSU.

“If the guys went to bed thinking they’d accomplished something, then hopefully this will wake them up and they’ll play good golf tomorrow,” Clegg said. “We have 18 more holes and we need to show up tomorrow, because we didn’t show up today.”

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