2006: Bruins wake up just in time

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Orlando, Fla.

Unlike politicians, NCAA regional championships can be all things to all people. For Georgia, the 54-hole qualifier was a warm-up for the upcoming NCAA final in Oregon. For UCLA, it was something of a wake-up call. And Southern California’s uncharacteristically poor showing could best be labeled a blowup.

Of course, at their core, the three NCAA regionals are simply means to an end, and the week ended about where Georgia coach Chris Haack figured it would.

The top-ranked Bulldogs posted a trio of steady, if unspectacular, rounds (284-294-287) to finish at 1-over 865 – a low-cal appetizer on their way to the main course May 31-June 3 at Sunriver Resort in Oregon.

“We just came in trying not to do anything stupid. This really doesn’t mean much. It’s the next level that means something,” said Haack, who will lead the Bulldogs to their ninth consecutive NCAA finals.

Georgia succumbed to a resurgent Wake Forest squad, which rallied with a final-round 283 to finish at even-par 864 and claim the East Regional title for the second year in a row. But the Bulldogs didn’t post a score above 75 at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club and seemed headed for victory before a series of untimely miscues on the layout’s demanding closing stretch.

For Wake Forest, the victory was the team’s second title this spring and its fourth consecutive top 5. Kyle Reifers led the Deacons with a tie for fifth at 3 under.

“I told the guys that they weren’t even expected to get out of this region and they took it to heart,” said Wake coach Jerry Haas. “We are a very good team. It could be a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team, but you can see from this week that they have the potential to play really well.”

UCLA will join Georgia and Wake at the NCAAs, but the journey for Bruins’ coach O.D. Vincent wasn’t nearly as stress-free as it was for Haack and Haas.

The Bruins began the week as the second-seeded team and were fifth in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, but ballooned to the edge of the postseason abyss after a second-round 300 left them tied for 10th.

“I worry about this tournament every year,” Vincent said. “If you have a tough day, you can shoot yourself out of it really easily.”

Maybe his biggest worry was the play of lanky sophomore Kevin Chappell. Vincent was so concerned with Chappell’s game on the eve of the opening round, the coach advised him to “do the best you can.” After Chappell opened with roller-coaster rounds of 70-73 he stunned his coach, and perhaps even himself, with a final-round 68 to quietly claim medalist honors at 5-under 211 – his first college victory.

“I called him the extreme makeover of college golf,” Vincent said. “He was really, really searching for it.”

Thanks to Chappell, UCLA – which won six team titles this season and finished outside the top 5 only twice – avoided being shut out of the NCAA finals

for the first time since 2002. However, UCLA’s late turnaround was a rare silver lining for a trio of West Coast teams who had to schlepp across the country.

Ninth-ranked UNLV limped home to a 16-over 304 to finish 10th and narrowly take the final qualifying spot, while No. 19 Southern Cal posted just two rounds under par for the week and failed to advance.

USC’s Taylor Wood shot 70-69-73 to earn his fourth consecutive trip to NCAAs, but he’ll make the journey north without his teammates.

“It’s bittersweet; obviously you want to go with your team,” said Wood, who tied for second at 4-under.

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