By Sean Martin
STILLWATER, Okla. – No. 1 vs. No. 2. It’s a matchup you hope to see in the final match. The nation’s top two teams will face off in the NCAA Championship’s first round of match play instead.
Oklahoma State and Texas A&M have won 15 titles this season, but one of them is guaranteed to go home one day before the final match at Karsten Creek.
The NCAA Championship’s match-play format, which debuted in 2009, has created unrivaled drama, but also has its downsides. The match-play bracket is determined by the standings after four rounds of stroke play, so there’s no way to guarantee top teams don’t meet before the most important match.
Oklahoma State won the stroke-play portion by eight shots over runner-up Duke. The Cowboys broke par in each of the first three rounds and placed three players in the top 20: Matthew Wolff
(T7), Viktor Hovland
(T11) and Austin Eckroat
“The mindset going into tomorrow, it's just do what we always do. We always play this course so well,” said Wolff, a freshman. “We have so much experience, and we've shot such low numbers here throughout the year.
“Match play is a little different, obviously. You have to take some risks, but I think … we all have a lot of confidence going into it.”
Oklahoma State has home-course advantage but also the pressure that comes from playing in front of thousands of orange-clad fans who have high standards for college golf’s powerhouse program.
The Cowboys are 0-2 in NCAA Championships at their opulent home course. They were runner-up to Clemson in 2003, finishing two strokes behind the Tigers, and lost in the 2011 semifinals to an Augusta State team led by Patrick Reed
Of course, history doesn’t matter now. This is a deep Oklahoma State team that has won nine times, including a seven-event winning streak earlier this season.
They drew Texas A&M for Tuesday’s first round after the Aggies beat Vanderbilt by a stroke for the final match-play spot.
Both Oklahoma State and Texas A&M have witnessed the unpredictable nature of the national championship’s match-play format before. In 2009, Oklahoma State won the NCAA Championship’s stroke-play portion by 13 shots. The Cowboys drew the nation’s No. 2 team, Georgia, in the first round, though. It all came down to the final match between two future PGA TOUR winners, Rickie Fowler
and Brian Harman
. Harman birdied the last three holes to win 1 up and give Oklahoma State’s successful season a tearful end.
Georgia was the eighth seed that year after losing a tiebreaker between the two teams that tied for the eighth and final spot. The Aggies’ fifth man, Matt Van Zandt
, had a lower score than Georgia’s No. 5 player, so Texas A&M got to avoid the dominant Cowboys. Texas A&M, which also avoided No. 2 Georgia, went on to win the national championship.
Oklahoma State is seeking its first national championship since 2006. Even with teams stacked with future PGA TOUR players Rickie Fowler
, Kevin Tway
, Morgan Hoffmann
and Peter Uihlein
, the Cowboys couldn’t conquer match play. Oklahoma State also won the NCAA Championship’s stroke-play portion in 2010 but lost to Augusta State in the championship match.
The Cowboys have three of the top 20 players in the country: Matthew Wolff
(4th), Viktor Hovland
(5th) and Zach Bauchou
(14th). Texas A&M, which has won six times this season, is led by the nation’s eighth-ranked player, Chandler Phillips
. He’s the only Aggie in the top 50 in the country.
“Anything can happen. It doesn't matter what we've done so far in the stroke play,” said Oklahoma State’s Kristoffer Ventura
. “As long as we show up tomorrow and play really good. My focus, and I know my teammates' focus, will be just to look in front of us tomorrow on the first tee.”
That’s good, because the nation’s second-ranked team will be standing alongside them on the first tee.
ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Championship
30 teams and 6 individuals not on a qualifying
team make up the field for the championship of
Division I women's golf.
After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual
champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance
match play to determine the team champion.
View Complete Tournament Information