Stanford's Wilson takes NCAA men's title in playoff
HUTCHINSON, Kan. –– If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.
Stanford senior Cameron Wilson missed a par putt at his 54th hole that would have clinched the NCAA individual title Monday at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. A little more than an hour later and after missed mid-range birdie putts on the first two playoff holes, he rolled home an 8-footer for birdie on the third playoff hole, the par-5 17th, to defeat Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans for medalist honors.
“It’s incredible. I’m so glad I made that putt,” said Wilson, who finished at 6-under 204 to help the Cardinal to a nine-shot victory in the team competition. Stanford earned the top seed for match play, which is scheduled for Tuesday-Wednesday.
PHOTOS: NCAA Championships (Monday)
View images from Monday's play of the Men's NCAA Division 1 Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club.
"I was a little nervous," Wilson added, "but more than anything I was really excited for the opportunity (to win). I made it a point to just enjoy the day and everything that came with it."
The victory gives Wilson, who notched 11 top 10s in 12 starts, three individual titles this season. None were more satisfying.
“It’s a huge honor to win this tournament and to be on a distinguished list of champions,” said Wilson, who becomes Stanford’s third NCAA medalist, joining Sandy Tatum (1942) and Tiger Woods (1996).
None were tougher to earn, either.
Schniederjans made six birdies as part of a final-round, 2-under 68 to get in the clubhouse at 6-under 204. From there, he could only wait as Wilson wrapped up an 11-hole par stretch from No. 8 to No. 16.
After a short time watching the live telecast and a trip to the practice area, Schniederjans watched as Wilson teed off at the par-4 18th, the Stanford senior having just taken a one-shot lead with birdie at the par-5 17th.
But Wilson missed both the fairway and green at the finishing hole, and then couldn’t convert on a par save from inside 10 feet, making his first bogey in 15 holes and keeping the Georgia Tech senior’s victory chances alive.
"I was disappointed for sure, but I hit a couple of shots that I liked on the last hole," Wilson said.
He redeemed himself a half hour later at the 18th with a routine fairway-to-green, two-putt par, halving the first playoff hole. At the par-3 10th, the second playoff hole, both players had good birdie looks. Both missed.
Then at the third and final playoff hole, the par-5 17th, Schniederjans' drive found some tall grass left of the fairway. He was able to lay up in the fairway.
"Awful (lie)," Schniederjans said. "I just swung as hard as I could with an 8-iron. . . . I was very happy with that."
He wedged to about 10 feet, but missed the birdie putt. Then Wilson, who hit his wedge closer after laying up from the right rough, drained his medal-winning birdie roll.
"Eventually one of us was going to birdie, and he made a nice wedge shot and a nice putt," Schniederjans said.
While Schniederjans didn’t get his sixth victory of the season, his Yellow Jackets also qualified for match play, finishing fifth at 1 over. Last year’s national champion Alabama and LSU tied for second at 4 under, Oklahoma State finished fourth, and UCLA (sixth), SMU (T-7) and Illinois (T-7) rounded out the top 8.
“I got to play with a lot of pressure today,” Schiederjans said. “We have some big matches coming up. . . . Winning individual is really cool, but winning the team (championship) is more important to me.”
Schniederjans said he won't dwell on the individual loss, either, and that he'll be ready for his match Tuesday morning against Oklahoma State's Ian Davis.
"I'm just focused on what's in front of me," Schniederjans said. "I don't have time to waste my energy on worrying about anything (in the past)."
Wilson's first-round match will come against Illinois' Alex Burge, who was disqualified from his third round after playing a wrong ball.
Just below Wilson and Schniederjans on the individual leaderboard was Wilson's Stanford teammate David Boote, who tied with Houston's James Ross and Alabama's Robby Shelton for third at 5 under. Shelton's T-3 finish is the Crimson Tide's best individual NCAA finish since Jerry Pate was runner-up in 1975.
Another Stanford player, junior Patrick Rodgers, who planned to turn pro after the NCAA Championship, came up short in his bid for his 12th career collegiate victory, which would have moved him out of a tie with Tiger Woods for the school record. Rodgers made five bogeys, including four in his last seven holes, en route to a final-round, 3-over 73, and finished T-15 at 2-under 208.
But for one of the rare times this season, it was Wilson grabbing the headlines.
“Cameron is probably the most underrated player here,” Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. “He’s had a great year, but not many people have been talking about Cameron Wilson. So to see him pull off the victory, in the biggest championship that we know, is pretty cool.”