Field set for NCAA event slated for Gold Mountain

t Eight Pac-10 teams, including UW, headline

t Eight Pac-10 teams, including UW, headline

27-team field.

The field is set.

Beginning Thursday, the NCAA Men’s Golf West Regional, hosted by the University of Washington, is coming to the Gold Mountain Golf Complex in Bremerton.

“I’m really excited about the field we’ve got. (It has) huge names, huge programs (and is) extremely complete,” seven-year UW men’s golf coach Matt Thurmond said Tuesday, describing the 27 teams and six individuals, totaling 141 golfers, who will be in action beginning Thursday.

Drawing the No. 21-seed, the Huskies will join the University of Kentucky (No. 19) and the University of Wisconsin (No. 20) for a 7 a.m. tee time on the 10th hole. It will mark the first of three 18-hole rounds.

“They’ll be wide-eyed and nervous, anxious and excited,” Thurmond said of the five players — four of whom will make their NCAA regional debut — representing the Huskies. “It’s going to be a great test of golf.”

Making its 13th consecutive NCAA regional appearance, UW will bring senior Zach Bixler and the four newcomers — Nick Taylor, Darren Wallace, John Wise and Tze Huang Choo — to Gold Mountain, looking to finish in the top 10 and advance to the NCAA championships, scheduled for May 28-31 in West Lafayette, Ind.

“We’re certainly shooting for advancing,” said Thurmond, his team looking to get back to the championships after missing out last year for the first time in eight seasons.

He feels the UW, which finished second to Oregon State at the Husky Invite at Gold Mountain in October, should have an advantage because of their experience with the course.

“We’re familiar with the course and comfortable with it,” Thurman said.

Widely known in the golf world as a tough-yet-fair course, Thurmond called Gold Mountain “US Open-caliber” and predicted the course’s fast greens will result in high scores, especially for teams not accustomed to putting on quick surfaces.

“Teams from the southeast don’t play greens these fast very often,” he said, referring to squads such as No. 3-seed Florida State and No. 5-seed Clemson, both expected to contend for the 2008 national title.

While the field of teams is strong top to bottom, individual competition will be ripe too as six golfers whose teams did not qualify for a regional bid will square off, the top two advancing to nationals.

Ranked No. 13 in the Golfweek Sagarin Performance Index Top-50 and winner of five consecutive events, Boise State’s Troy Merrit — the 2008 Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year — appears the favorite to win the individual competition.

With Gold Mountain playing host, this year’s regional competition also brings two local golfers — Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley and Tacoma’s Andrew Putnam — back to their old stomping grounds.

Stanley, a sophomore at Clemson and last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, finished third in the 2007 East Regional, while Putnam, a freshman at Pepperdine, earned 2008 West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year honors.

There’s no admission charge for the event.