EUGENE, Ore. – The scene was surreal.
Oregon played nervously Monday on its home course at the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship and was just outside the coveted eighth spot by a shot. There was a sense that, after playing terrific all week, they may have blown their opportunity at the very last moment.
The Ducks gathered as a team on the first tee to await their fate knowing only a massive hiccup would propel them into the match-play portion of the championship.
Then it happened.
Oklahoma State’s Linnea Johansson was smack in the middle of the fairway on the last hole, some 140 yards from the pin and only needed par to send her team onward and prevent Oregon from doing the same. The junior dumped her approach shot short and left into the greenside bunker. Her third skipped across the green into another bunker. Her fourth shot did the same. Johansson failed to get up and down, made triple-bogey 7 and the gallery stood in stunned silence.
Oregon moved on. Oklahoma State was eliminated.
“It’s tough to see anybody [go through that], but that’s the game of golf sometimes,” Oklahoma State coach Courtney Jones said. “Sometimes it happens when you’re on the first hole, sometimes middle of the round, sometimes last hole of the round. It’s tough to see, we don’t want to see anybody go through that.
“It’s going to make her stronger, she’s such a competitor and fighter and I know she’s going to come out even better after this.”
Then there was Oregon, standing there knowing that, unless Arizona was to go ridiculously low over the last few holes, it had accomplished its goal. Still the Ducks weren’t ready to celebrate because of what they just witnessed from Oklahoma State.
“We wanted to throw up,” Oregon coach Ria Scott said, bluntly, of the anticipation. “I would’ve been more nervous if we were on the golf course chasing after that number. It’s almost a little bit more reassuring once you have that number posted and you’re just waiting. There’s nothing you can do, but it’s good to know that that’s final.”
Oregon will face Pac-12 rival UCLA in Tuesday’s quarterfinal. The Bruins shot 8-under 1,144 after four rounds to earn the top seed.
“We wanted to win, we wanted to be the No. 1 seed, but at the end of the day we know that’s not the championship anymore,” UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth said. “They’re the Ducks and the crowds are going to come out and support them. We’re going to have to deal with that and all those distractions. But we’re playing really good golf, we have some great players on our team who showed today that they’re single minded and focused.”
Stanford, the 2015 champion, shot the lowest round of the tournament (9-under 279) to jump up and grab the second seed. The Cardinal will play seventh-seeded South Carolina. USC (No. 3) and Duke (No. 6) will match up in a clash of the two best women’s teams over the past 20 years. Washington (No. 4) and Virginia (No. 5) are in the other quarterfinal. The Cavaliers made four late birdies in their regional last week to qualify for the NCAA Championship by a shot. Now they have a chance to play for the national title.
After an abysmal opening round, it was always going to be a tall task for Alabama to fight its way back into contention. It was difficult for the Crimson Tide to make the first cut on Sunday in the first place.
Time ran out Monday as the top-ranked team in the country failed to qualify for match play. Alabama won three tournaments and collected seven top-three finishes this year, but packed its bags early and heads home while five Pac-12 teams, two ACC teams and an SEC foe will square off the next two days to determine the champion.
“There’s just a time there where we were throwing shots away like crazy,” Alabama coach Mic Potter said about his team’s opening-round 12-over 300 score. “It’s my fault, I need to make sure we’re more prepared coming into this tournament.
“You think about being ranked No. 1, maybe we thought it was a given (to reach match play). I didn’t, and I don’t think they did, but we need to tighten up on our preparation and eliminate mistakes.”
Alabama played much better in the final three rounds but missed out on match play by seven shots. The Crimson Tide were the only real surprise on Monday as each of the top eight teams that qualified for match play are ranked inside the top 20 in the country.