Augusta National take a bow

By Randall MellApril 11, 2011, 4:48 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – We’re waiting for golf’s next big star to take charge with the game in transition.

We thought we might be crowning wunderkind Rory McIlroy before he took a detour on his way to Sunday’s coronation ricocheting his tee shot at the 10th hole off a tree and into Masters lore. McIlroy might still be the Once and Future King, but he’s got some work ahead breaking the scar tissue that comes with an epic collapse.

Charl Schwartzel stepped up as a bright new candidate claiming his first major championship.

We learned at Augusta National just how loaded the game is with youthful possibilities.

We learned Tiger Woods’ bid to regain his supremacy might be hard fought even when he masters his new swing because this new breed is as fearless as it is hungry. Schwartzel is only 26 years old. McIlroy is 21. Jason Day, at 23, made a hard charge before tying for second.

This marks three consecutive major championships won by a player in his 20s. Martin Kaymer was 25 when he won the PGA Championship last August, Louis Oosthuizen 27 when he won the British Open last July.

The game feels young again, but there was irony in being reminded Sunday that an ageless star singularly towers over the game.

We were reminded at the Masters that this invitational tournament started by Bobby Jones in 1934 is as fresh and vital as it’s ever been.

We were reminded that no matter who’s playing, whether it’s Hogan, Nicklaus, Palmer or Woods, the stage is the star at Augusta National.

Some may not be fond of the exclusivity of this private club, but if you’re a golf fan, you have to love the wondrous formula the membership has created for identifying the game’s best players.

Pebble Beach and St. Andrews may be treasures, but no golf course in the world consistently delivers dramatic theater like Augusta National.

Risk and reward war more mischievously here than at any other championship venue. We saw it again Sunday with more epic tales of wonder and woe added to tournament history.

McIlroy shoots 80 to squander a four-shot lead. Schwartzel closes out his victory with four consecutive birdies. Woods experiences both wonder and woe within a single round charging early with four birdies and an eagle on the front nine before missing a pair of 3-foot putts and squandering one birdie chance after another on the back nine.

There was so much more with Geoff Ogilvy making five consecutive birdies to leap into the hunt, with Luke Donald chipping in at the 18th to give himself hope, with Adam Scott knocking down flags and putts in equal measure and Day closing hard also.

“Incredibly exciting finish,” Scott said. “It’s amazing what happens at this place.”

The stage is a living, breathing character in the action, especially down in Amen Corner, where the drama plays out with azaleas sprawling like fire at the feet of all those towering pines and with dogwoods aglow in splintered golden rays of sunlight piercing the tree tops.

And yet amid the beauty, there’s something ominous, like the rustling of vulture’s wings.

McIlroy knows the sensation now, just like Greg Norman (1996), Ed Sneed (1979) and Ken Venturi (1956) did before him. They’re the only players to lose leads off four shots or more in the final round of the Masters.

“I don’t think there’s a lead big enough around here,” Scott said.

Sunday’s denouement was head-spinning. You needed a dose of Dramamine to fend off motion sickness with all the lead changes. Eight different players led or shared the lead. At one point, nine players were within two shots of the lead.

Some may not like sportswriters gushing over this place, but there’s a reason. The event so consistently lives up to its hype. It delivers more blockbuster sequels than Hollywood. It rarely disappoints.

“There are so many roars that go on around Augusta,” Schwartzel said. “Especially the back nine. It echoes through those trees. There's always a roar. Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking at the leaderboard. But sometimes, I would look at it, and it would not register what I was looking at.”

Schwartzel wasn’t alone. This Masters bordered on sensory overload. This Sunday finish delivered more plot twists than you’ll see in 10 U.S. Open final rounds.

“It was unreal,” Day said. “It's probably the most excited I've ever been in a golf tournament.

“You're out there in the middle of the fairway, and there are roars around you and you don't know what's going on. And then all you see is that little number pop up on the leaderboards, and everyone is screaming. And it's an amazing feeling to be out there in the thick of things.”

Golf may go through some dramatic changes in the next year, but no matter who finally emerges as its next big star, he’ll take second billing to the Masters when the game returns to Augusta National.

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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)