Illini Beat #1 Cal, Advance to NCAA Title Match
June 1, 2013
MILTON, Ga. - California's Max Homa, the 2013 NCAA individual champion, missed a nine-foot par putt that would have halved the second playoff hole with Illinois' Thomas Pieters, the 2012 NCAA champ, giving the Illini a 3-2 victory in the NCAA Championships semifinal match at the par-70, 7,320-yard Capital City Club Crabapple Course on Saturday. The fifth-seeded Orange and Blue advance to face third-seeded Alabama Sunday at 7 a.m. CT, after the tee time was moved earlier in the morning to avoid impending weather in the Atlanta area.
Illinois continues to improve on a program-best finish at the NCAA Championships, as it is guaranteed no worse than a runner-up finish. The previous high-water mark was a tie for fourth place in 1941. In the day's other semifinal match, Alabama beat host Georgia Tech 3-0-2.
"It's just another step," Illini head coach Mike Small said of what the win means to his program. "It's something that shows stability. It shows that we've been building this over the years. We're not one of those programs that gets good and then struggles for two or three to build back up to (year) four and then gets good again. We've been doing this for six, seven years in a row. We won five times (in stroke-play events) this year. People think we're some Cinderella team but no, I played seven guys for most of the year for a reason.
"I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was because I was in there competing with them. They were doing great. Honestly, you get this far, just enjoy it. It's hard to do, but I'm telling my kids to enjoy it. I'm telling my kids to enjoy every shot and if they're not, they better step away from it and take a deep breath and enjoy it. I'm doing the same thing."
In addition to Pieters' 20-hole, 1-up victory over the 2013 NCAA individual champion, freshman Charlie Danielson scored a 3 and 2 win over Cal's Joel Stalter and sophomore Brian Campbell beat Michael Kim, 2 and 1. Freshman Thomas Detry dropped a 1-up match to Michael Weaver at the No. 1 position after Detry lipped out a six-footer that would have sent his match to extra holes. Sophomore Alex Burge also dropped his match to Cal's Brandon Hagy, 4 and 3.
Danielson put the first point on the board for the Illini, winning the first hole, then adding victories on Nos. 4 and 5 to go 3-up through five holes. Stalter got one back on the 6th, then cut Danielson's lead to one with a victory on the par-4 8th. But the Illini freshman won the 9th and the pair halved Nos. 10 and 11. Danielson added a win on No. 12, then another on No. 14 go to go dormie, meaning he was 4-up with four holes remaining. But Stalter chipped in for birdie on the par-3 15th to stay alive and force play to the 16th hole. Danielson kept his cool, though, and halved the hole to earn the 3 and 2 win.
Detry and Weaver battled all day, halving the first seven holes before Detry drew first blood with a win on No. 8. But he gave it back on the par-4 9th, carding a six while Weaver recorded par. Detry kept his composure, though, winning the 10th hole as Weaver bogeyed. But the Cal golfer evened the match with a hole win on No. 12. The pair played even through 16, then Detry left it short of the green on the 17th. But he got up-and-down for par, forcing Weaver to sink a 10-foot par putt, which he did to halve the hole.
On 18, Detry tried to play the wind, but it died momentarily and his approach ended up on the apron in front of the green. He putted it within six feet of the cup and Weaver's 18-foot birdie putt to win was just short and he tapped in for par. Detry had a six-footer to halve the hole and force a playoff, but it lipped out and Weaver won, 1-up.
As Detry finished, word spread to No. 18 that Cal's Michael Kim, who was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the Golfweek/Sagarin player rankings entering the NCAA Championships, conceded the hole to Campbell on No. 17 after making bogey, giving Campbell the 2 and 1 win. Kim won the first hole, but Campbell squared the match on No. 4. Kim won the par-4 7th but Campbell won No. 9 to square the match at the turn. Campbell took his first lead of the day on No. 11 then the pair halved the next three holes. Campbell chipped in for birdie on No. 15 to go 2-up, but Kim got one back on the 520-yard, par-4 16th as Campbell made bogey. But the Illini sophomore sealed the match with a birdie on the par-4 17th as Kim bogeyed the hole for the 2 and 1 decision.
As Campbell was finishing, Alex Burge dropped his match 4 and 3 to Cal's Brandon Hagy. Burge won No. 1 but Hagy won the next two holes, then added wins on Nos. 6, 7 and 8. Burge never cut Nagy's lead to less than 3-up the rest of the way.
That left it up to Pieters and Homa, who had a match for the ages in the No. 3 spot. After the pair halved the first four holes, Homa won the par-4 5th with a birdie to go 1-up. He added wins on Nos. 8 and 9, as Pieters bogeyed both holes, to make the turn 3-up on the Illini star. But Pieters showed his true colors on the next three holes, winning all of them to square the match after 12. But Homa went back ahead, 1-up, with a birdie on the par-3 13th. Pieters fought back with a win on No. 14 to bring the match back to all squared. The pair halved the next three holes to bring it to No. 18.
Pieters stuck his approach within four feet, while Homa's was approximately 25 feet out. Homa missed his long birdie putt, but Pieters couldn't sink his, then they both sank the par putts to halve the hole and send it to a sudden-death playoff. In the playoff, both players were just off the green back on No. 1. Pieters played first, chipping within a foot of the hole. But Homa matched him shot-for-shot, nearly rolling his chip shot in as it stuck on the lip and they halved the first playoff hole. On the second hole, Pieters' tee shot ended up in the hillside rough on the right side of the fairway, but he dropped it within nine feet below the hole. Homa nearly flew the green, rolling it down the back side and 40 feet away. Homa had to put enough speed on his putt to get it to the hole, but it rolled eight feet past the hole. Pieters missed his nine-footer for birdie that would've given him the win, but left it close. Homa had a chance to force a third playoff hole, but lipped out a tricky eight-footer that gave Pieters the 1-up win in 20 holes.
#5 Illinois def. #1 California, 3-2
NCAA Championship Match: #3 Alabama vs. #5 Illinois