Pitchers and putting on weekend


LITTLE ROCK — Another weekend of college baseball, another reminder that pitching carries Arkansas and that the Razorbacks can win a series if two of their three starters are effective.

Barrett Astin got knocked around pretty good on Friday night in the series opener against Tennessee and Arkansas lost for the eighth straight time when the opponent scored five or more.

Ryne Stanek and Randall Fant took up the slack in the next two games. Stanek pitched seven shutout innings and struck out nine; Fant gave up two hits in 6 1-3 scoreless innings and Arkansas won a Southeastern Conference series for the seventh time in nine tries.

Subpar outings happen to the best. On Saturday, Detroit’s Justin Verlander, who signed a five-year extension worth $140 million in March, gave up six hits, five walks, and four runs in five innings and lost.

Arkansas’ RPI has improved to the mid-40s, but Vanderbilt, LSU, and South Carolina have an RPI in the top dozen meaning the Razorbacks might have to sweep this week’s regular season-ending series at Auburn to host an NCAA Regional.

If not, remember that three No. 2 seeds, including Arkansas, two No. 3 seeds, and a No. 4 seed won six of the 16 Regional tournaments in 2012. Arkansas was also one of three teams that beat the host at the eight Super Regionals.

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Revamped after Normandy Invasion dropped out, the Daily Racing Form’s early line on Saturday’s Preakness has Kentucky Derby winner Orb as the 6-5 favorite. The second choice at 6-1 is Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents, who finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby. Odds are in double digits on six of the other eight likely to run, including 10-1 on Rebel winner Will Take Charge.

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Got up Sunday hoping that Henrik Stenson would post a 54-hole score equal to or better than Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia so that Woods and Garcia would be paired again in the final round.

Instead, Stenson played his final two holes in par for minus 10, and Woods and Garcia both had a birdie to move into a three-way tie for first with former Razorback David Lingmerth. As a result, Garcia was in the last group with Lingmerth, playing behind Woods and Stenson.

Probably just as well. If Woods and Garcia had spent another five hours together, their frosty relationship would have upstaged a roller coaster ride of a golf tournament made possible by Woods’ shockingly uncharacteristic tee shot on No. 14. Known for closing the door once he gets the tournament lead, Woods made a good decision — one applauded by the TV analysts — to play safe with a 5-wood. Woods’ tee shot splashed down 30 feet left of terra firma and he made double bogey on No. 14, providing an opening for several players, all of whom declined to take advantage.

Woods’ pure putting stroke saved par on 15 and his execution was textbook on the final two holes.

Before the leaders teed off, I looked at the top nine players and eliminated Garcia (putting), Lingmerth (pressure), and Jeff Maggert (age). At that time, there was no way to know that Garcia and Maggert would have so much trouble hitting a short iron onto the 17th green. Whether a pitching wedge was the right club or not, Garcia made a terrible decision going for the back right pin.

Lingmerth, who held up remarkably well in the national spotlight, pocketed $709,333 and has already locked up a top 125 finish on the money list and his PGA Tour card for 2014 in his all-or-nothing rookie year. His aggressive attempt to tie Woods with a long birdie putt on No. 18 cost him about $300,000, but he still has banked $1.2 million, primarily with two seconds. He has missed the cut in eight of 11 other events.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.