Trojans charge into match play

Tom Glissmeyer during the third round of stroke play at the 2009 NCAA Golf Championships

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TOLEDO, Ohio — The player with the unenviable task of filling in for Jamie Lovemark led USC’s third-round charge at the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship.

USC got off to a hot start Thursday, then held on for a 5-under 279. It was the low score of the day and helped USC earn the No. 3 seed for match play after spending most of the tournament well outside the top eight.

Senior Ryan Linton, who was only in the lineup because of Lovemark’s fractured rib, was the first Trojan on the course Thursday. He birdied his first four holes to shoot 69 at Inverness.

The Trojans finished stroke play at 13-over 865 and will face Michigan in the first round of match play. No team in the field went lower over the final two rounds than USC, which shot 8 under par over that stretch.

After opening with 81, Linton shot 71-69.

“It’s so big,” USC sophomore Tim Sluiter said of Linton. “What else can you expect? Without Jamie, we were searching for a fifth guy. It’s amazing what he did.”

Sluiter couldn’t believe his eyes when he first saw a scoreboard Friday. The Trojans played the first four holes in 10 under. In addition to Linton’s hot start, Sluiter and Tom Glissmeyer were 3 under on their first four holes.

Linton started his day with an 8-iron to a foot on No. 10, then made birdie putts of 15 and 12 feet on Nos. 11 and 12. He hit his 95-yard third shot on the par-5 13th to within inches.

Sluiter knocked a pitching wedge stiff on No. 11 and made eagle on the 13th after hitting an 8-iron on the par-5 to 15 feet. Glissmeyer made birdie putts of about 10 feet on Nos. 10 and 12, then got up-and-down from the greenside bunker on No. 13 for birdie.

Sluiter ended up shooting 70, while Glissmeyer shot 66 to finish third in the individual standings at 3-under 210, three shots behind winner Matt Hill of North Carolina State.

Oklahoma State was the low team at 3-under 849, 13 shots ahead of Arizona State. Those two teams were coming off regional titles. USC wasn’t exactly peaking for the NCAA Championship.

The Trojans finished eighth at the Pac-10 Championship and were the last team to advance out of the West Regional, without a shot to spare.

USC opened the NCAA Championship with a 21-over 305 and was in 22nd place. The Trojans shot 281 the next day to move up to 13th when play was called due to darkness.

“The thing that’s important is we have some really optimistic guys,” USC head coach Chris Zambri said. “That’s one of the best traits you can have as an athlete.”

Zambri used Glissmeyer as an example. Glissmeyer was facing an up-and-down for bogey on the 10th hole when play resumed after the second-round weather delay.

“I told him, ‘Play well,’ and he said, ‘I will,’ ” Zambri said. Glissmeyer’s bogey save put him at 7 over for the tournament. He played the final 26 holes in 10 under par.

“I feel like I’ve paid my dues and I’ve struggled,” Glissmeyer said. “It feels great to have all that hard work pay off in a big way in my last tournament.”

Glissmeyer, who’s turning pro after the NCAA Championship, first gained national attention when he qualified for the 2003 U.S. Open as a 16-year-old. He didn’t have one top-25 as a freshman, had four top-10s as a sophomore, then was an honorable mention All-American last year. He won his first tournament earlier this spring at the Morris Williams Intercollegiate.

Linton played just 10 events in three years before this season.

“Golf wasn’t a top priority for a few years,” Linton said. “I started taking it serious the last year or so, and I’ve really enjoyed it since.”

He was in USC’s lineup six times this year, but not for the Pac-10 Championship (where teams use six players) or the West Regional.

“It’s great,” Linton said of his play. “I wasn’t even supposed to be here. But I’m here now and I’m happy to be here.”

It didn’t look like the Trojans would be around for match play, either. Not until an improbable rally from an unlikely source.

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