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Heartbreak for some as team field whittled to 8

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STILLWATER, Okla. – Scott Limbaugh’s heart sank even before he opened the text message from his father.

He knew his team was headed home.

On a wild final day of stroke-play qualifying that at one point saw nine teams within three shots, fourth-ranked Vanderbilt was the best team left out of match play at the NCAA Championship.

The Commodores were one of the pre-tournament favorites but they couldn’t overcome a final-round 304 – their worst score of the season, by eight shots – and finished one shot back of Texas A&M for the eighth and final match-play spot.

“It stings,” Limbaugh said. “I had a feeling about this team, so it’s tough right now. But we didn’t go take it. And when you leave it in others’ hands, you go leaving like this.”

Even with a 16-over final round, Vanderbilt appeared to be safe when team leader Theo Humphrey rolled in a 10-foot eagle putt on the 72nd hole. Then John Augenstein yanked his tee shot into the pond on 18 and made bogey.

They watched the rest of the final round in the locker room, until it appeared they might be in line for a playoff. Limbaugh sent the team down to the range to practice, but Texas A&M’s Andrew Paysse birdied two of his last three holes, including a 20-footer on the last green, to send the Aggies to match play, where they will face top-seeded Oklahoma State.

NCAA Men’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Men’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

Limbaugh received a text from his father, who was standing by the final green, before they showed the clinching putt on TV. 

“I did not think this would happen,” Limbaugh said. 

Host Oklahoma State overtook Duke on the final day to earn the top seed. No team on either the men’s and women’s side has won both the stroke-play and match-play portion of the NCAA Championship.

Duke held the top spot after a course-record 12-under round on Sunday. The Blue Devils were 30 shots worse on the final day.

“I couldn’t care less how many strokes different we were,” Duke coach Jamie Green said. “The only thing that matters is that we’re in match play.”

Texas Tech grabbed the third spot despite playing without its best player, senior Fredrik Nilehn, who opted not to compete because of a lingering back injury. Defending champion Oklahoma received a huge 72 from fifth man Garrett Reband – who was 20 over par for the first three rounds – and earned the fourth spot, even though the Sooners are now on the same side of the bracket as chief rival Oklahoma State.

SEC champion Auburn advanced to match play for the first time, while Alabama rose from ninth to sixth after clutch shots late from Davis Riley, Lee Hodges and Jonathan Hardee.

Texas shot the low round of the day, a 5-over 293, and eked into match play after seniors Doug Ghim and Scottie Scheffler both birdied the 72nd hole.

Vanderbilt wasn’t the only top team heading home early. Illinois saw its run of five consecutive match-play appearances end with an 11th-place showing.