LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Northwestern's men's golf team will make the 30-minute drive back to Evanston with two Big Ten trophies. The Wildcats battled brutal weather conditions to overcome a three-stroke deficit and claim the 2006 Big Ten Men's Golf Championship.
Junior Chris Wilson (Dublin, Ohio/Coffman) birdied three of the final four holes on his way to a final round 2-under 69 and bested Michigan State's Ryan Brehm for the individual crown.
The Wildcats, who were hosting the Championships for the first time in 50 years, won their first team and individual titles since 2001 when they earned the last of three straight team championships and PGA star Luke Donald took home the individual title.
With the Championship victory, the 'Cats earned the Big Ten Conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Championships.
The Conway Farms golf course that lay defenseless as it yielded record-after-record low scores in the first two rounds of the 2006 Big Ten Championships got some payback in Sunday's final round. With winds gusting up to 40 mph, a wind-chill in the 40s and rain, conditions for the majority of the last round were downright punishing as the scoring average ballooned to 79.58. It was 73.65 in the first round.
Although the team title was a horse race for the first nine holes of the final round, the real drama was in the individual competition that came down to the day's final pairing. It was there that Wilson locked horns with Brehm, the 2005 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and the runner-up at last year's Championships.
Wilson, having trailed by as many as seven strokes early in the round, had trimmed playing partner Brehm's lead to just a single stroke heading into the 15th hole. The winds died down and a classic back-and-forth finish ensued.
Wilson missed the 15th green long, and found himself needing to get up and down to stay in the hunt. His 'lucky' 30-foot chip found the bottom of the cup, and he moved into a tie for the lead with three holes to play.
Wilson stuck his approach to three feet on No. 16, and it was Brehm's turn to answer.
The Spartan rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt to briefly regain the lead before Wilson knocked in his short birdie putt.
A Wilson par and a bogey by Brehm on No. 17 gave the Wildcat his first outright lead of the tournament heading to the par-5 18th.
Wilson's tee shot on No. 18 stopped short of the fairway bunker, and he decided to lay up. Brehm, who had blasted his drive past Wilson's, decided to go for the green in two. His 3-wood came up just short and left of the green, leaving a 25-foot eagle pitch.
Knowing Brehm had an excellent chance of making birdie, Wilson responded. With 103 yards left to the pin, Wilson knocked a sand-wedge several feet past the hole and spun it back. The ball came to rest four feet to the right of the hole.
Brehm's chip came up short, leaving a slick 8-foot birdie attempt. Brehm nailed the putt, and put the pressure back on the Wildcat.
Wilson landed the final blow in the title fight, sinking his putt to win the 2006 Big Ten Championship. He finished at 4-under 280 (70-70-71-69) -- the third-best 72-hole score in Conway Farms collegiate history.
'I have to give it to Chris,' said Brehm. 'I feel like I did just about everything I could. I made putts when I needed to. I birdied 16, and I birdied 18. He just played great, great golf. That 69 today was exceptional.'
Wilson was the only player to shoot even par or better in all four rounds. His final round score of 69 was the best round of the day by four strokes.
Wilson's championship hopes seemed slim after two holes on Sunday. Brehm came out hot and birdied Nos. 1 and 2. Wilson found himself seven strokes down to Brehm, who had shown no signs of faltering after opening the Championships with a Conway Farms collegiate record 7-under 64.
After both players bogeyed the third and fourth holes, Brehm double-bogeyed No. 6. It was then that Wilson began to reel in the Spartan.
Just as he did in round two, Wilson ran off three straight birdies on Nos. 7-9. Wilson made nine of his Big Ten Championship leading 17 birdies in that three-hole stretch.
After a bogey by Brehm on the ninth, Brehm's lead had closed to one stroke, and the race was on.
Northwestern's 17-over 301 was the best of the day. The 'Cats shot a 24-over 1160 (282-286-291-301) to win by nine strokes over Minnesota. Purdue finished third, one stroke back of Minnesota.
The victory is head coach Pat Goss' fourth Big Ten title and his 21st tournament victory.
Junior Kyle Moore (Dublin, Ohio/Scioto) and senior Dillon Dougherty (Woodland, Calif./Woodland) shared 13th-place at 10-over 294. Moore went 65-72-80-77. Dougherty shot rounds of 75, 70, 71 and 78.
Junior David Merkow (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead Union) finished in a tie for 24th. He shot a three day total of 301 (72-77-75-77).
Sophomore Dan Doyle tied for 44th with a 310 (75-74-74-87).
The Wildcats return to action at the NCAA Regional Championships, May 18-20, at a site to be determined, but most likely in Chardon, Ohio. Northwestern will find out its regional assignment on May 8.