BRADENTON, Fla. – The Race to the Eight was more like a procession Monday. On the most stressful day on the college golf calendar, no team played its way inside the top-8 bubble.
The top seven seeds la-di-da’d their way through the final round of stroke play at the NCAA Championship. The only semblance of drama – if you can even call it that – was with UCLA and Georgia Tech, the two teams vying for the all-important eighth spot.
The Bruins, who shot a championship-best 8 under in the third round to make the initial cut, edged the Yellow Jackets by three shots. They will face top-seeded Illinois in Tuesday’s morning quarterfinals.
“This was a stepping stone for our bigger goals,” UCLA coach Derek Freeman said, “but it was a really hard step.”
Georgia Tech’s two seniors were in shock afterward.
Ollie Schniederjans, who began this season as the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, shot 78 Monday and didn’t count toward the team total. All he would have needed was a 74 to send the Yellow Jackets on to match play.
Anders Albertson, the ACC champion, thought he had birdied the last two holes of his college career, but he was assessed the only slow-play penalty of the day after officials deemed that he didn’t make a concerted effort to speed up. It wound up being a moot point anyway, as Tech finished three shots back.
“Just in shock with how my final college day went down,” Schniederjans said. “It couldn’t have been more of a disaster, really.”
It was business as usual for the other top teams, though.
Illinois didn’t count worse than a bogey for the second time this week as it locked up the No. 1 overall seed. The Illini will look to break a recent trend, because the top seed has never gone on to win the national title since the switch to match play in 2009.
“Guess we’ll have to try and disprove that,” coach Mike Small said.
Georgia was the lone team outside the top 20 that advanced. The Bulldogs, even with a pedestrian effort from four-time winner Lee McCoy (T-33), earned the No. 3 seed and will face host South Florida in the quarterfinals.
Among those missing out were No. 1-ranked Florida State, which was nine shots off the cut line, and No. 6 South Carolina, another six behind.
Though there wasn’t the usual volatility during the final day of stroke-play qualifying, that didn’t make the round any less stressful.
“Every coach was grinding his way around this golf course,” Texas coach John Fields said. “Anything can happen out there. There are just catastrophic mistakes out there.”
But all of those big numbers will result in merely a lost hole beginning Tuesday morning. It’s on to match play at the NCAA Championship.
“You can throw the seeds out the window,” Small said. “All eight teams are dead equal now.”