And then there were eight (including one Cinderella)
While the individual title was settled Thursday, N.C. State's Matt Hill walking off with medalist honors, the team tournament moves on to the next phase of the newly redesigned NCAA Championship with the low eight schools advancing into a match-play competition over the next two days that will determine the winner.
With a three-under 281 in the final round, Oklahoma State left little in the way of drama as to who would claim the No. 1 seed, finishing at three-under 849 for 54 holes, 12 strokes ahead of No. 2 seed Arizona State.
"I'm very happy with all of our rounds," said Cowboy coach Mike McGraw. "We were very consistent and steady and that is what you have to do out here. You have to be steady because this golf course is always pushing you."
Also advancing without much fuss was No. 4 Arkansas and No. 5 Washington
As for the other five teams, well each had a story to talk about over dinner tonight.
Texas A&M and Georgia, the No. 7 and 8 seeds, had to sweat things out after putting together rough performances in the final round (11 over and 12 over, respectively). When the two finished at 17-over overall, they were actually tied for the last spot, but watched as Tennessee slip out of the top eight to let both schools survive.
Missing 2007 NCAA champion and player of the year Jamie Lovemark, out of the line-up with a broken rib, USC shot the best round of the day Thursday, a five-under 279, to jump from T-12 to third place. Senior__Ryan Linton__, who replaced Lovemark in the lineup, shot closing 69.
"It was crazy," said USC coach Chris Zambri. "They just stayed patient and focused."
Then there was the day's Cinderella story, No. 6 seed Michigan. The unranked Wolverines, back in the NCAA Championship for the first time since 1997, put together a three-over 287 to finish 54 holes at 16-over 868. Sophomore Lion Kim made a eight-foot par putt on his last hole to help secure Michigan's spot in the Elite Eight.
"It kind of started with the last round at the regional in Austin, Texas," said Michigan coach Andrew Sapp, his team finishing fifth to grab the last spot to nationals. "We just built on that momentum this week and played really well.
"It is going to be a lot of fun. I told these guys before the regional that we can win the national championships. The hardest part is getting there. Now we are in the final eight and it's a whole new ballgame. Everyone starts at zero."
Indeed, one of the drawbacks of the new format (according to its critics) is that everyone is back to square one. In years past, Oklahoma State would have taken a comfortable 13-stroke lead into the final round, making an 11th NCAA title seem well within its reach. Now, they get to face the Bulldogs, who were ranked No. 1 in the final Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll.
"We knew that would be the case whether we finished first, second or eighth," McGraw said. "You just want to build confidence every day because that's the battle you have in golf. Finishing first gives us a lot of confidence because you always want to play well and feel good. We're going to have seven great teams left and you're going ot have to play someone good."
__No. 1 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Georgia
* Head-to-head record in 2008-09: Georgia, 4-2
No. 2 Arizona State vs. No. 7 Texas A&M
* Head-to-head record in 2008-09: Texas A&M, 2-1
No. 3 USC vs. No. 5 Michigan
* Head-to-head record in 2008-09: First meeting
No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 5 Washington
* Head-to-head record in 2008-09: Washington, 2-0