By Patrick Klein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Pack up the Titleists. Fold up the hospitality tents and put those little duck covers back on the 3-woods. The Pac-10 men's golf championship has been called off.

At least that's how Arizona coach Rick LaRose sees it.

His Arizona team is hosting the 72-hole tournament, which runs today through Wednesday at Tucson National Golf Club, but LaRose might be taking that hospitality thing a little too far. He wants to give the title to Arizona State right now.

"I don't see any way they can lose," LaRose said. "They've got the best players, the highest ranking, and they've won the last two tournaments they've been in. If they don't win, it would be a huge upset."

But since the tournament must go on, LaRose has installed the fifth-ranked Sun Devils as the overwhelming favorites. Stanford, which is the Pacific 10 Conference team with the highest national ranking at No. 3, is the other team that LaRose thinks has a chance.

And the Wildcats?

"Maybe we can sneak in there," LaRose said. "We're just hoping we don't get lost on the golf course somewhere."

That would be tough to do. Tucson National has been a second home to Arizona, which also competed there during the 1992 NCAA West Regionals and will do so again for this year's West Regional May 19-21. The course is the primary site for the PGA Northern Telecom Open.

"It's our favorite course," LaRose said. "We play it a lot and have a lot of knowledge about it."

Defending Pac-10 champion and UA sophomore Jason Gore also sees the par-72, 7,055-yard course holding an edge for Arizona.

"I think we have the inside track because we've played National before," Gore said. "We know where to miss it. It doesn't look like it's that overpowering, but if you hit it in the wrong place, you're looking at a big number."

Another big number at this year's tournament is the number of players that teams are allowed to use. During the regular season, teams could take five players to tournaments and count the top four scores. In the postseason, teams field a six-man squad and take the top five scores. This format favors the deeper teams.

"On this course (playing six instead of five) will help against most schools except ASU, because they have depth," LaRose said. "Our players are just as good, they just haven't played that way yet. But we're happy playing six instead of five because our six compete better with ASU's than our five do with their five."

While LaRose thinks his team can down the red-hot Sun Devils and the Cardinal, the other school that made the Golf World men's poll, Southern Cal, thinks there is room for a fourth team in the race for the championship.

"I think we feel good about our chances," said Trojans coach Jim Empey, whose team was ranked 26th. "But we're going to have to play better than we've played all year. There is no doubt that ASU, Stanford and Arizona will be tough to beat. ASU and Stanford have been in the top five in the country all year, but playing at Arizona's home course will make them tough to beat."

NCAA individual champion and Pac-10 runner-up Todd Demsey will make ASU tough to beat, as will Demsey's teammate Chris Stutts, who was third at last year's Pac-10s.

Arizona will be trying to vanquish memories of last year's Pac-10s at the Sandpiper Golf Course in Santa Barbara, Calif. The Wildcats dropped a heartbreaker to Arizona State by two shots, despite the presence of first-team All-Americans David Berganio and Manny Zerman.

This season, Arizona's squad is searching to find a balance between experience Gore, fifth-place Pac-10 finisher David Howser, and Ted Purdy and youth sophomore transfer Tim Beans and freshmen Mike Jones and Gary Matthews.

The first and second rounds started this morning at 7. Rounds three and four will be played tomorrow and Wednesday, respectively, beginning at 7 a.m. both days. Admission is free. Read Next Article