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Golfers Ready For Regionals, But Lose Baird

May 14, 2008

                COLUMBUS, Ohio ? The University of Colorado men's golf team arrived here Tuesday evening and had a practice round Wednesday in preparation for the 111th NCAA Championships, which start Thursday with three regionals around the country.

 

                But the Buffs will be minus one of their leaders likely for the remainder of the season, as senior Michael Baird was diagnosed with double pneumonia on Monday and faces bed rest this week.  He will miss the NCAA Central Regional, and even if CU advances to the national finals later this month, there's no guarantee he'll be able to rejoin the team.

 

                Baird, who is from Castle Rock and prepped at Douglas County High School, transferred to CU his junior year after two seasons at Pepperdine.  He did not play in the first three tournaments of the 2006-07 season, but since has been a mainstay.  His absence this week ends a run of 22 consecutive tournaments for him, of which he either led or shared the top of the Buff leaderboard.  He led the Buffs in stroke average last year (74.23) and is tops on the team at present as well (74.27).

 

                The Ohio State University Scarlet Course, which plays to a 7,455-yard and a par-71 configuration, is hosting the regional for the fourth time.  It was also the site of CU's win last month in OSU's Robert Kepler Intercollegiate on April 13, the Buffs second tournament win of 2007-08.  CU defeated five schools in the Kepler that are participating this week in Central Regional.

 

                Baird will be replaced in the lineup by sophomore Justin Bardgett, who did not compete last month but is coming off a solid performance in The Maxwell in Ardmore, Okla., last weekend.  He also grew up in the St. Louis area and played similar courses to the Scarlet on a regular basis.

 

                All four other Buffaloes who played in the OSU meet in April will return to give it a second-go.  In arguably the best balanced effort all season by the Buffs, CU placed three in the top 13 and all five in the top 34 in the 75-man field.  Sophomore Luke Symons (tie-2nd), junior Derek Tolan (tie-13th), senior Jim Grady (tie-21st) and freshman Michael Imperato (tie-34th) all played well, but they'll no doubt miss Baird, who tied for 10th.

 

                Baird had played in three NCAA championships; without him, only Tolan (twice) and Symons (once) have any postseason experience.

 

"It's unfortunate, especially finding out less than 24 hours before you're scheduled to leave," CU head coach Roy Edwards said of losing Baird.  "His college career is likely over, but his health is more important than anything else.  We're all hoping he can recover quickly, but in the meantime, Justin played very well at The Maxwell and it proves that you always have to be mentally and physically ready to go when something like this happens.

 

"I still feel good about everything," he continued.  "You have to approach it as an opportunity and not with a "woe are we" attitude.  Everyone knows they have to step up.  We have done a great job this year when we have stayed in the moment and we did just that last month here, and did so in some bad weather.  While it won't be as cold as it was last time, rain is in the forecast every day.  So if we can minimize big errors, keep making good decisions, and believe in ourselves a little bit more, I think we'll be all right.  We can't waste shots."

 

Or maybe even a single shot.  History has shown time and time again that a single stroke can mean the difference between advancing to the NCAA Finals and having a season end early.  The last seven Central regionals have all come down to a playoff or one stroke separating the 10 teams that qualified and the 11th that was left on the outside looking in.  Overall, on six occasions, there was a tie for the last qualifying spot, with one stroke the difference seven times and two strokes three times.  Only three years has the margin between qualifying and going home been more than two shots, in 1992 (7), in 1998 (3) and in 2000 (4). 

 

                CU is seeded No. 21 in the region and will begin play bright and early Thursday morning, off the No. 10 tee at 5:00 a.m. MDT, and is paired with Ohio State and Baylor, the Nos. 19 and 20 seeds, respectively.  There are nine top 25, including No. 1 Alabama, and 16 top 50 teams entered in the field; Colorado enters ranked No. 65 in the GolfStat rankings and No. 67 in the Golfweek tabulation.

 

                This marks the third consecutive year the Buffaloes will participate in the NCAA's, the eighth time in the last 10 years and for the 15th time in the 20 seasons since regional play was instituted in 1989.  It's Colorado's 26th overall appearance in the national championships.  The Buffaloes are one of 27 teams that are vying for a top 10 finish here, as the top 10 schools from each regional will advance to the NCAA Championship Finals in West Lafayette, Ind., May 28-31.

 

NOTE: Follow the tournament's live scoring at www.golfstat.com.