By ERIC SODERSTROM
COLUMBUS,Ohio – For a couple hours there, the No. 1 team in the country lookedlike they might not have a chance to prove it. Alabama, the top-rankedsquad in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, struggled to a 25-over 309 Saturday in the final round of the NCAA Central Regional.
“Itwas not the way I envisioned today,” said Alabama coach Jay Seawell,just moments after his team finished. “I actually thought we would makea good run. We got about 3-4 holes in and you could tell that the windhad really kicked up, and it kind of changed things.”
Gusts ofup to 25 mph, the strongest of the week, blew through Ohio State’sScarlet Course all day. It was a very uncomfortable morning, as hadbeen the trend all week long.
“This golf course is just hard,and we just got on the wrong side of it today, and that’s the way golfgoes. And I hate it for them,” said Seawell. “I hope that’s not mythree senior’s last round, they’ve done too many things for that to bethere last round.”
The Crimson Tide ended up in sixth place, sixshots clear of the cut line. They can thank the Scarlet Course, whichplayed to a 77.71 stroke average Saturday, the toughest of the threedays.
Joseph Sykore shot 76, Matt Hughes 77. Michael Thompsonand Matthew Swan both posted 78s. Mark Harrell (pictured), who had beenAlabama’s best player through the first two rounds, threw up an 81.
“Itwas just impossible,” said Thompson, who made two consecutive doublebogeys during his final round. “You could have played your best golfand shot 2 over, and unfortunately I was playing too well.”
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TWAY BETTER: Oklahoma State freshman Kevin Tway carefullyknocked in a 7-footer for par on the 18th hole Saturday for afinal-round 75 and 4-over 214 total. Minutes after signing hisscorecard, a reporter told Tway it was good enough for the invididualtitle.
“Oh, really?” said Tway, who has always been outwardly nonchalant on the golf course. “Nice.”
His victory here wasn’t as easy, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise.Tway, who struggled a bit earlier in the season, was coming off runner-up finishes at the Big 12 Championship andthe Maxwell, and has recently regained a putting stroke that seems tobe the missing link to only greater success.
Before the Big 12 Championship, Tway switched back from a ScottyCameron putter to the Odyssey Two-Ball he used to win the 2005 U.S.Junior at Longmeadow (Mass.) Country Club.
“I’ve been hitting the ball good for a while, and it’s just nice to seesome putts drop,” said Tway. “It’s a lot easier to score when you’remaking putts.
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WAKE UP: Wake Forest’s victory should come as a strong warningto the rest of college golf. The Deamon Decons completed a wire-to-wirevictory on a course that spent most of the weekend seemingly devouring anythingthat moved. Even Webb Simpson shooting a final-round 80 didn’t matter.
“I think we’re underrated,” said Brendan Gielow, who shot atournament-best 69 in the first round on his way to a tie forsecond place individually.
The key to Wake’s success may have been the resurgence of junior DustinGroves, who finished fourth after rounds of 72-70-74. Groves, No. 430in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, had a decent fall before falling hard in a few tournaments this spring.
That’s when Groves knocked on the door of coach Jerry Haas’ office.
“Had a real good meeting with him, and he got my confidence back whereit needed to be, and it really feels good to play better,” Groves said.
“Obviously with Webb and Brendan I think we really have a good shot, so we need me to be playing well.”
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OL’ ROCKY ROAD: The toughest ending of the day came for11th-ranked Tennessee, which played the 18th hole Saturday in 4 over.The Volunteers finished one-stroke off the cutline, helping Indianasqueak into the NCAA Championship.
Arkansas was the only team of the afternoon wave to challenge for the10th and final spot, but plummeted late in its back nine.
“Scary,” said Indiana coch Mike Mayer.
“I don’t think we played thatwell, we played OK at time and we got some good play from certainplayers at times, but he we didn’t have the whole thing. We counted an82 today, and we if we get to the next level we know we can’t havethat.”
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LIONS ROAR: Other than Illinois, the most surprising teamtoadvance to the championship round may have Penn State, which finisheddead-last at the Big 10 Championship, but held on this week thanks to atournament-best 286 in Round 2. The Nittany Lions, No. 43in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, struggled to a final-round308, but only fell into a tie for eighth, good enough for their firstfinals appearance since 2004, when they made the cut and finished 15th.
“It just validates how well we played this season,” said coach Greg Nye.
The Nittany Lions were led by senior Robert Rohanna, who shotconsecutive 1-under 70s the final two days. Last year, Rohanna missedadvancing as an individual by a shot.
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SHORT SHOTS: TCU’s James Sacheck won the second individual spotinto the NCAA Championship in a playoff. Sacheck slammed his approachshot on the second playoff hole to 1 foot and tapped in for birdie tobeat Tennessee’s Charles Ford. “I can make those when I’m nervous,”Sacheck joked. … Derek Tolan of Colorado also advanced as anindividual. … Oklahoma State’s Rickie Fowler, the No. 1 player in theGolfweek/SagarinRankings, got back on track after struggling the first two rounds(74-77), playing the last 10 holes of his final-round 73 in 2 under. “Isaw we were up there close to the lead, so when I was coming in, I justkind of said, you need to do this for the team and not worry what I’mshooting, so I just kind of got things together.”
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Eric Soderstrom is the managing editor of Golfweek.com. To reach him e-mail [email protected]