EUGENE, Ore. – There is a new way to sort out the 54-hole cut at the NCAA Championship, and not every coach left Eugene Country Club on Sunday night pleased with the outcome.
The top 15 teams after three rounds of stroke play advanced to Monday’s final round, after which the individual champion will be crowned and the field cut to eight teams for the match-play bracket.
After 54 holes, five teams tied for 14th place at 27-over 867 – Louisville, Oklahoma, TCU, Clemson and Georgia – but only two are moving on.
In a new format tweak this year, the NCAA said that the tiebreaker for the top 15 teams would not be decided by a team playoff, as it often the case. Instead, the cumulative throw-out score for the three rounds would be used to determine which teams advanced. In college golf, teams send out five players and count only the four best scores each round.
And so, in this scenario, the cumulative throw-out scores of Louisville (20 over) and Oklahoma (24) were slightly better than TCU (25), Clemson (27) and Georgia (27).
“Gosh, these kids come all this way, when they found out it was a card playoff, basically it was like, ‘What?’” Georgia coach Chris Haack said. “But it is what it is, you have to deal with it, and it’s our fault for not shaving off one more shot.”
The NCAA said Sunday night that coaches were notified of the format change last summer in the Division I Men's Golf Committee annual report, at the GCAA National Convention in December and were reminded again during the coaches meeting on Thursday. The decision also appeared in the NCAA handbook.
Asked why the decision was made to use the fifth-man score instead of a team playoff, Eric Sexton, chairman of the NCAA men’s golf committee, said there were three reasons: It is important to use the entire five-man team when determining which squad advances; it helps avoid the scenario of a multi-team playoff (such as this year); and the plan is not for individual years but a series of championships, and many times the circumstances (weather, amount of daylight) are different from year to year.
Said TCU coach Bill Montigel, whose team did not advance under the new system: “It puts a little incentive on your fifth man to go out there and keep fighting and not give up. If your fifth man didn’t play well, you don’t make it. I kind of like it.”
TCU’s Paul Barjon missed a 5-footer on the final hole that would have put the Horned Frogs inside the number at 26 over par. On the same hole, Florida State’s Josh Lee burned the edge on an 8-footer that would have tied the Seminoles at 27 over; they would have advanced via the tiebreaking formula.
Houston finished one shot off the cut line, in a tie for 19th, but coach Jonathan Dismuke said he still wasn’t a fan of the format change.
“These guys play a lot of golf over the course of the year,” he said, “and anybody that is 15th place or better, you deserve a chance to play the final round. It’s a shame.”
Only nine shots separate the all-important eighth spot and a tie for 14th, meaning that one of those teams that missed out could have posted a low round Monday and reached match play.