Clemson makes comeback to win USCC
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Clemson overcame the cold, wind, and even some snow, not to mention a 13-shot deficit, to win the fourth U.S. Collegiate Championship Tuesday at The Golf Club of Georgia.
The Tigers, No. 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, were the only team under par the final round and their 4-under 284 performance gave them a 12-over 876 total.
Stanford, the leader at the start of the day, shot 11-over 299 and finished second at 14-over 878, while host team Georgia Tech, with a solid even-par 288 finish, surged into third at 881, two shots better than Georgia.
Oklahoma State, which moved into the No. 1 spot in the rankings following its victory last week at the Morris Williams, closed with two 300-plus rounds and finished 10th at 31-over 895.
Individually, UCLA senior Erik Flores and Alabama freshman Bud Cauley were co-medalists. Both closed with 1-over 73s to finish at 4-under 212, two strokes better than Stanford freshman David Chung. They were the only players under par for the tournament as Georgia Tech’s John Tyler Griffin and Stanford’s Steve Ziegler tied for fourth at even par 216.
For Clemson, the win couldn’t have come at a better time – or in better fashion. It was the Tigers’ first tournament victory since it won the inaugural U.S. Collegiate Championship in the spring of 2006.
“Winning on this golf course against this strong a field should carry a lot of momentum for us the rest of the way,” said Clemson coach Larry Penley. “The guys were so determined and so focused today. It was impressive to watch.
“The big thing is we just needed to win a tournament. I know how hard they have worked and I know how good they can be. I think they showed that today and hopefully they’ll really start believing in themselves.”
Clemson was the first round leader after a 5-under 283, but tumbled into a tie for sixth after a second-round 309. At 16-over for the tournament, it left the Tigers 13 shots behind Stanford and put them in a final grouping starting on the back nine in the same time frame as Stanford was starting on the front.
The Tigers quickly began their charge. With Luke Hopkins shooting 5 under over the first nine holes, Clemson made its turn in 3 under and trailed Stanford by four.
Clemson played its final nine holes in 1 under while the Cardinal battled the tougher back side in 7 over among its four counting scores.
“The weather was equally (bad) all day so I don’t think it really mattered (being on a different side from the leaders),” Penley said. “We we’re able to finish on 8 and 9 which are a lot easier than 17 and 18 so from that perspective, yes. But other than that no.”
Morning temperatures were in the mid-30s and as teams arrived at the course snow was falling. It stayed that way for about 4-5 hours before “warming” up into the mid-40s. While not as severe as the previous day, winds in the 15-20 mph range kept things interesting.
And, it sure did get interesting coming down the stretch between Flores and Cauley, who both started the day at 5 under and were paired together.
Flores jumped out quickly with an eagle on the opening hole. He made birdie at Nos. 5 and 9, but also had bogeys at 3, 6 and 7. Cauley birdied 1, 3 and 9, but made double bogey at 6. After 10 holes they remained deadlocked at 6-under.
Cauley, who injured his right wrist during spring break and missed Alabama’s start in the Callaway Match Play last month, birdied the 11th and Flores made bogey for a two-shot swing.
Cauley bogeyed 14, but got it back to a two shot lead with a birdie at 15.
Now it really got interesting.
Flores moved to within one at 6 under with a birdie at 16 and then took over the lead by a shot when Cauley dumped his tee shot in the water at the par-3 17th and made double bogey.
At 6-under, it gave Flores a one-shot lead coming to the par-5 18th. But Flores hit his third shot – his ball being in a sand-filled divot – into the water in front of the green and made double bogey.
Cauley flew his third shot over the green and his chip to a downhill pin on the fast green rolled 30 feet down the hill. He two-putted for bogey to give the tournament its first co-medalists.
“I thought I was in perfect position (in 18th fairway),” Flores said. “It’s a shame I had to be penalized like that. But the bottom line is I just didn’t hit the shot I wanted to.
“Overall, though, I’m pleased with the week,” Flores said. “I finally had a really good ball striking tournament and that’s encouraging. It’s nice to have some confidence.”
Cauley, too, had mixed emotions regarding the first victory of his young college career.
“Because of the finish, it doesn’t really feel like I won,” he said. “Once I calm down I think I’ll see a lot of positives I can take out of the week. I think I learned a lot and hopefully when I get in this situation again I’ll be able to finish a lot better.”