Cal looks for championship repeat against loaded field

UCLA will serve as host of the 54th Annual Pac-12 Men’s Golf Championships at the Los Angeles Country Club, April 29-May 1. With five teams ranked among the top 10 in the nation, the field is as competitive as ever. Conference teams are rife with talent across all classes, and the Pac-12 Championships may, once again, present a wild finish. Sophomore Michael Kim and junior Joël Stalter lead a California squad that enters the Championships on a hot streak. The defending Pac-12 Champion, Cal has won a school-record nine of 12 events in 2012-13 and holds a No.1 national billing by GolfWeek Magazine. The Bears have five individuals ranked among the top 30 in the GolfStat national rankings, led by Kim at No. 1 and Stalter at No. 8.  Kim, a top contender for the Haskins Award given annually to the nation’s top collegiate golfer, has finished in the top five in seven events this season and outside the top 10 just once. Stalter has turned in a trio if top-five finishes, including victories at the Arizona Intercollegiate and the John A. Burns Intercollegiate in February. Ranked 14th in the country, junior Brandon Hagy was the Bears’ top finisher at the 2012 Pac-12 Championships. He shot an eight-under 280 to finish tied for fifth.

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UCLA, the 2012 NCAA runner-up and fifth-ranked team in the country, is paced by senior Pontus Widegren, the nation’s seventh-ranked men’s golfer. Widegren, who has shot a team-best 12 rounds under par this season, is averaging 70.62 strokes per round, 0.81 strokes under par. He has turned in four of top-five finishes in 2012-13, which includes a tournament victory at the CSU San Marcos Fall Classic in October. Senior Pedro Figueiredo placed seventh at last year’s Conference tournament and is currently ranked ninth nationally. He claimed top individual honors after shooting a five-under 208 at the Prestige in February. Seventh-ranked Washington looks to improve upon its seventh-place finish at last year’s Pac-12 Championships, and with two players ranked in the top 20 in the country, it has the pieces to contend for the Conference title. Sophomore Cheng-Tsung Pan (ranked No. 15), senior Chris Williams (No. 20) and junior Trevor Simsby lead a squad that has finished among the top three in seven of 11 tournaments this season.

Stanford, ranked No. 9 by GolfWeek, has finished among the top five in eight tournaments and claimed a victory at the U.S. Intercollegiate in March. Three Cardinal are ranked in the top 23 in the nation, and none has come up bigger than fifth-ranked Patrick Rodgers this season. The sophomore has placed in the top 10 in six of nine events, winning three this season. He enters the Pac-12 Championships with a string of three straight top-10 finishes that began with a victory at the Southern Highlands Masters last month. No. 16 Cameron Wilson has logged four top-10 finishes, while defending Pac-12 individual champion Andrew Yun (No. 22) enters the week averaging 71.3 strokes per round. Yun will attempt to become the first player to successfully defend his medalist honors since Arizona State’s Paul Casey won three straight titles from 1998-2000. USC has won a Pac-12 best 19 Conference Championships and will have the benefit of playing for number 20 in its own backyard. The Trojans field a young squad that brings plenty to the table in terms of firepower. Freshman standout Yi Keun Chang is ranked 31st by GolfStat, has finished among the top 10 in four of nine tournaments and shot a two-under 211 to win the North Ranch Intercollegiate in February. Sophomore Anthony Paolucci shot under par in three consecutive tournaments earlier this season and posted top-10 finishes in each of them.

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Oregon was denied its bid for a Pac-12 title when it fell to eventual champion California in a playoff last season. The upstart Ducks, led by sophomore Rak Cho, would relish a shot at redemption in 2013. They have placed among the top five in four of 11 tournaments this year, including a first-place finish at the Oregon Duck Invitational. They have placed in the top 10 in six-straight tournaments. Meanwhile, Oregon State, which finished fifth at last year’s Conference Championships, has posted five top-five finishes this year behind the play of seniors David Fink (No. 36) and Nick Chianello (No. 60). Arizona and Arizona State squared off in a number of tournaments during the regular season with mixed results. The Wildcats, paced by junior Erik Oja, have finished outside of the top 10 just once this season. Oja owns a team-low 73.06 stroke average and has posted four top-10 finishes. The Sun Devils have relied on steady play from freshmen John Rahm (No. 43) and Max Rottluff en route to claiming four top-five finishes in 12 events. Colorado’s Jason Burstyn, who carries a 72.2 stroke average into the Pac-12 Championships, is ranked No. 71 nationally by GolfStat. Redshirt junior Casey Halliday paces Utah with a 74.1 stroke average.

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