NCAA quarters: Illinois still alive; Texas sent packing

By Ryan LavnerJune 2, 2015, 7:05 pm

BRADENTON, Fla. – After top seed Illinois set its lineup for Tuesday’s quarterfinal match, assistant coach Zach Barlow sent heralded freshman Nick Hardy a text message.

“Be ready for that 4-5 slot all 3 matches bro,” Barlow wrote. “No one’s putter we trust more than yours! When it’s on the line, we want you putting for it.”

Fourteen hours later, Hardy was putting with everything on the line.

To the surprise of no one around this Illinois program, Hardy buried the 6-foot par putt, the finishing blow that sent the Illini to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship.

Recalling this story in the clubhouse later Tuesday, Barlow could only laugh.

“I’d let him putt for my life,” he said.

Despite trailing in all five matches early, Illinois kept its title hopes alive with a 3-2 victory over UCLA.

That was supposed to set up a blockbuster against Texas, two teams with 15 combined wins this season, but only the Illini stayed alive. 

Southern Cal rolled Texas, 3-0-2, in one of the other quarterfinal matches, a victory more decisive than even the final score indicated.

“It’s a stinger,” Longhorns coach John Fields said.

With the afternoon semifinals underway at Concession, Georgia is facing SEC foe LSU, while Illinois takes on USC.

The Bulldogs, the lowest-ranked team to advance to match play, continued their surprising run with a thorough 4-1 victory over host South Florida.

LSU, which needed an incredible final-day run just to advance through regionals, won the first three matches against Vanderbilt to end the drama early.

But all eyes were on Texas, and for good reason. The Longhorns were the hottest team in the country, with six wins in their last seven events entering nationals. But this was an unusual week from the outset. 

The Longhorns got off to a rocky start, and their spot in match play was only secured after playing the last two days in 12 under.

In the quarterfinals, USC’s Bobby Gojuangco led off with a 4-and-2 win, and Rico Hoey never faltered during a 2-and-1 decision over Texas’ Doug Ghim.

Sean Crocker delivered the clinching point for the Trojans, but not without some help.

Crocker won the last two holes of regulation after opponent Gavin Hall went bogey-double bogey, and Hall then blocked his tee shot into the jungle left of the 10th fairway. Over by the television set, Hall slashed around in the bushes while Crocker stuffed his approach to 10 feet. Ballgame.

“I don’t like losing,” Crocker said. “I hate losing, no matter what it is.”

Said Texas’ Beau Hossler: “The one goal at the beginning of the season was to win the national championship, so yeah, it’s disappointing, because we didn’t reach that goal. We expect to win tournaments, and obviously coming up short of that is not a good feeling.”

Four of the top five teams in the country have now left the property: No. 1 Florida State and No. 3 Arizona State didn’t even advance to match play, and No. 2 Texas and No. 5 Vanderbilt bowed out in the quarters.

“You almost have to overcome your success a little bit here,” Fields said. “It’s hard, because you’re stinging because it’s over. When you see kids go home and they’re emotional at the end, it’s because you recognize that it’s over. So many great things happen that go into this moment, it’s hard to accept.”

Illinois hopes it got its scare out of the way early.

All five players trailed in their match as the team made the turn, but they flipped the outcome with a spirited rally.

Most impressive was junior Charlie Danielson, who, starting at the eighth hole, won seven holes in a row en route to a 4-and-3 victory.

After such a dramatic swing, Small said it is his job to “spread the love, spread that momentum.”

It seemed to work for Thomas Detry, as the sweet-swinging Belgium, who was in contention for the NCAA individual title, pulled away from UCLA’s Manav Shah after making three consecutive birdies late in his round.

And it seemed to work for Hardy, who could “feel the energy” as the crowd swelled, the pressure built and it became apparent that his match would be the decider.

Small chose Hardy for the anchor spot for two reasons: He was playing well, having shared medalist honors at the Big Ten Championship a few weeks ago; and he had match play experience, having reached the semifinals of the Western Amateur as an incoming freshman.

Small has already started calling his two newcomers “sophomores,” because if they’ve come this far they’re not playing like freshmen anymore. 

“Win or lose today, I want them to learn for the next two or three years," Small said. "We want to win, but I’ve got a future here, too. Might as well throw them in there. Why sit there and pamper them and baby them? Put them in there and let ’em go.”

His faith was rewarded as Hardy knocked his approach safely on the 18th green, about 40 feet from the cup. He raced his first try past the hole, but kept his composure and drained the comebacker.

They celebrated for a few minutes, and Hardy was the hero, just as Barlow suspected the night before.

A few minutes after receiving that text Monday night, the one that told him to be ready for all of the pressure and the big spot, the 19-year-old tapped out his reply.

“I want it too,” he wrote. “Thank you.”

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry