Ringler: Wong's comeback leads Ducks past UCLA
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PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. - One of the most intriguing matchups of the day involved two Pac-12 Conference teams going head-to-head. The second-seeded UCLA Bruins faced the No. 7-seeded Oregon Ducks, two teams that have played in the same event five times this year, with the Bruins holding a 3-2 edge.
NCAA Men's Championship: Match Play, Day 1
Check out images from Day 4 at the NCAA Men's Championship at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Today, the 3-2 edge belonged to Oregon.
UCLA was considered to be a favorite this week, considering its familiarity with Riviera Country Club. The Bruins also had played well in stroke-play qualifying, having the lead a few times during the final round and eventually placing second to Alabama by two strokes.
“We have played these guys a lot, and our guys have a lot of respect for them,” Oregon coach Casey Martin said. “My guys look up to them. We knew we had to be really good today.”
The loss was tough for UCLA coach Derek Freeman, who for the second year in a row saw his Bruins fall in the opening round of match play. Last year, UCLA was the top seed at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., and fell in the opening round to Duke.
“I am proud of my guys,” Freeman said. “It’s part of what college golf is in this setting, and we have to figure out how to get better in match play.”
UCLA had the slight advantage once the teams hit the back nine. Junior Pontus Widegren got the first point on the board with a 2-and-1 win over senior Robbie Ziegler. And then Patrick Cantlay, the 2012 Hogan Award winner, defeated freshman Jonathan Woo 5 and 3 to get the Bruins' second point.
But then Oregon senior Andrew Vijarro posted a 3-and-2 win over UCLA's Alex Kim for the Ducks' first point.
With a 2-up lead standing on the 10th tee, sophomore Anton Arboleda, who opened with a 67 in the stroke-play portion of this championship, appeared as if he might get the clinching third point for UCLA.
But Oregon’s Eugene Wong had other ideas - saying he is comfortable playing from behind.
“All my past experience from match play, I have always been down until the last few holes and then get back up. In my head, I have good memories coming from behind,” Wong said.
The senior, who was the 2010 Jack Nicklaus Award winner, won No. 10 and then No. 12 to square the match. Wong would win No. 14 to take a 1-up lead to the 18th hole.
Playing in the match just ahead of Wong was his teammate Daniel Miernicki. Miernicki would have to hold off Pedro Figueiredo if Wong were to provide the match winning point. Miernicki would make par and win 2-up - setting the stage for Wong.
Wong made a routine up-and-down from just off the front of the green, forcing Arboleda to have to roll in a 20-footer for birdie to force a playoff. His putt missed, and Oregon advanced to face Texas.
“Anton hit the shots; he just didn’t convert the last two birdies, and that’s all you can ask,” Freeman said.
Oregon has a lot of motivation this week with four seniors in the lineup. They remember coming up short two years ago at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., where the Ducks lost to Oklahoma State in the semifinals.
“More motivation for us is our guys have looked up to UCLA,” Martin said. “UCLA is a great program and one of those programs we are striving to beat and compete with. We were really motivated today for a lot of reasons.”
Oregon will have to stay motivated if it hopes to win a national championship. The nation's top two teams – Texas and Alabama – are still playing golf this week.
“Things kind of went our way, and it will need to continue if we are going to beat Texas,” Martin said.