Oregon rockets into match-play contention at home NCAA Championship

Aaron Wise (left), standing with Oregon assistant coach Van Williams

Oregon rockets into match-play contention at home NCAA Championship

Men

Oregon rockets into match-play contention at home NCAA Championship

EUGENE, Ore. – Casey Martin wasn’t happy.

The head coach of nine years at Oregon had seen his players go through the motions in an opening round that left the Ducks well behind the 8-ball at the NCAA Championship.

“On Friday, I thought we were lazy and weren’t sharp, and this is the national championship,” Martin said. “I thought the players needed to man up.”

It doubly hurt, too, because Oregon is playing this year’s national championship as host. Eugene Country Club is the Ducks’ home course, and the team generally practices here three times per week.

So when Martin thought his players weren’t bringing it, he didn’t hold back.

“I let ’em know,” Martin said, with a laugh.

“He had to get it out,” added Aaron Wise, an Oregon sophomore. “It was a collective, ‘Let’s get our heads out of our butts.’ “

Well, the Ducks certainly did that Saturday. Oregon fired a 3-under 277 during the second round of the NCAA Championship, piecing together the best round of the day in the entire 30-team field by two shots. The Ducks, significantly behind after 18 holes, rocketed up the leaderboard, climbing an incredible 15 spots to reach a tie for fourth at 8 over.

The Ducks are well within the line to make the top-eight for match play if the stroke-play portion were to end Saturday. That would be quite a double feat, as Oregon qualified for match play at last week’s NCAA Women’s Championship.

 Of course, there are still 36 more holes to go on that front.

“It’s not over. We’re not taking any congratulations yet,” Martin said. “But today was a really good day.”

Indeed, it was a day to celebrate.

Wise, the team’s star player, pieced together a second consecutive 70 to push himself into a tie for 15th. Sulman Raza, after opening in 77, did the sophomore one better with a second-round 69 that boosted him 57 spots on the leaderboard to a tie for 81st. Another 70 arose from Thomas Lim (T-64, 5 over) and poor Zach Foushee (T-81, 6 over) posted a 71 but couldn’t even crack the counting scores.

The biggest player Saturday for the Ducks, though, was Edwin Yi.

That’s right, a freshman. Yi had been a key part of the Ducks this season, but had just two top-25s in seven events in the starting lineup heading into the NCAA Tucson Regional. The high showings hadn’t been coming.

“He’d been really close,” Martin said. 

Then he ended the regional with a sizzling 67, moving him into a tie for 22nd and ensuring the Ducks made it home to the national championship.

He began nationals with a solid 1-over 71 and was 1 over on his second round when he reached the par-3 third (he began the round on No. 10) Saturday, and then he went to work.

Yi’s family is keeping track of the tournament back home in Los Angeles, but his girlfriend is on-site and was following him at Eugene CC the entire round.

But a new group, including Yi’s roommate, his roommate’s girlfriend, other friends and members of Oregon’s women’s golf team, arrived on that third tee.

“Once they came, it was a different type of feeling,” Yi said. “It’s like I wanted to show them something.”

And that he did. A 45-foot birdie putt with 4-5 feet of left-to-right break? Yi used the pin’s shadow as a line and buried the bomb. Next hole, perfect drive, 190-yard 7-iron to 5 feet, eagle. On No. 5, a 105-yard lob wedge to 5 feet, birdie.

Four under in three holes.

“Once I made that first putt, they went crazy. And when I made that eagle putt, they went even crazier, ” Yi said. “It made me want to push my limits.”

Yi would finish with three pars and a bogey, ending the day with a 2-under 68. That jumped him 27 spots on the leaderboard into a tie for sixth.

“Edwin’s a player who truly believes he can do it, on the inside, and that’s something you can’t teach,” Wise said.

The Ducks won’t be getting ahead of themselves yet, though. A team dinner at Mucho Gusto in Eugene awaited. And Martin noted that while being at home is an advantage, there are things to look out for.

Namely, that the Ducks’ constant play on this course is of a different, more vanilla version than they see this week. Oregon didn’t adjust well to more tucked pins and firmer and faster greens than usual at Eugene CC on Friday.

In order to make the top eight, the Ducks will have to continue adopting more of the focused attitude they brought on Saturday. If they get through, though, they like their chances.

I think if we get that opportunity, there’s no stopping us,” Wise said.

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