The favorite, three who could challenge and dark horses for the 2023 NCAA Men’s Golf Championship

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — With one tournament left on the calendar, it’s time for the stars to shine.

Thirty teams and six individuals will battle it out, beginning with four rounds of stroke play, starting Friday and concluding Monday when an individual champion will be crowned. Then the top eight teams will advance to match play, which begins Tuesday, and the finals will be Wednesday, when the team champion will be crowned.

Ahead of the first round of competition, Golfweek takes a look at some of the players to watch, including the favorite, those who could challenge for the individual crown and some dark horses who could make a run.

Golfweek/Sagarin rankings: Men’s teamMen’s individual

The favorite: Gordon Sargent, Vanderbilt

The defending NCAA individual champ is back in the desert and looking to defend his title. Sargent has built off his victory last year and been one of the best players in the country this season. He has wins at the East Lake Cup, John Hayt Invitational and Mason Rudolph Championship and finished T-7 at the Auburn Regional last week. It shouldn’t be a shock to see Sargent on top of the board again at the end of the week.

2022 NCAA Championship
Vanderbilt golfer Gordon Sargent hits from the first tee during the final round of the NCAA college men’s stroke play golf championship, Monday, May 30, 2022, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Those who could challenge

Ludvig Aberg, Texas Tech

Seeing Aberg on this list should be no surprise. He has won four times in six starts this spring and finished top 10 in every start. He also won the Big 12 Conference individual title, becoming the first golfer to win back-to-back Big 12 titles, and he captured the Norman Regional. There may not be a hotter golfer coming in.

Ludvig Aberg
Texas Tech’s Ludvig Aberg. (Photo: Texas Tech men’s golf)

Michael Thorbjornsen, Stanford

Thorbjornsen is another player in contention for the Haskins Award, given to the best college player this season, and for good reason. He won the Fighting Illini Invitational in his season-opening event and added a victory at the Pac-12 Championship, as well. He tied for fifth at the Las Vegas Regional last week and could find himself in contention at Grayhawk.

Ryan Burnett, North Carolina

Burnett may not be ranked as highly as the two before him, but he has had plenty of success at Grayhawk and is coming in off a victory at the Salem Regional. Last year at the NCAA Championship, Burnett was part of a four-way tie at even par following four rounds of stroke play, falling to Sargent in the playoff. However, Burnett also won the Calusa Cup last month, as well, and is playing strong.

Dark horses

Ben James, Virginia

Ben James is ranked No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, and for good reason. The freshman has won five times this season, more than any other Division I golfer, and shared medalist honors at the Las Vegas Regional. However, James hasn’t played as tough a schedule as others. That didn’t stop him from competing in a packed regional, and it shouldn’t be a shock to see him near the top of the leaderboard in the desert again.

2022 Streamsong Invitational
2022 Streamsong Invitational

Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira, Arkansas

The senior at Arkansas won the Latin America Amateur Championship earlier this year, and he got into the Masters because of the finish. Last year, he finished ninth at Grayhawk and was two shots out of the playoff. He finished T-11 at the Salem Regional and has had an up-and-down season, but he could find his groove and succeed again in the desert,

Drew Goodman, Oklahoma

Goodman, a sophomore, is trending. He doesn’t have a win this season in 11 starts, but he does have a 70.03 stroke average and five top-5 finishes. His best performance yet was last week at the Norman Regional, when he placed runner-up to Ludvig Aberg. He placed fifth at the Big 12 Championship and runner-up at the regional, so could he continue his upward trend?

Oklahoma’s Drew Goodman putts during the final round of the NCAA Norman Regional at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club in Norman, Okla., on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (Photo: Nathan Fish, The Oklahoman)
Oklahoma’s Drew Goodman putts during the final round of the NCAA Norman Regional at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club in Norman, Okla., on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (Photo: Nathan Fish, The Oklahoman)

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek