Georgia knocks off OSU in thrilling start to match play
__*Updated: 2:03 p.m.
TOLEDO--__It would have been hard to find a more exciting way to christen the match-play format debuting at the 112th NCAA Championship Friday morning. A clash of the two best teams in the country, coming down to the final hole of the deciding fifth match to determine which team survives and which team goes home.
Granted, many had hoped Georgia, the No. 1 ranked team in the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll who hung on to claim the eighth seed, and Oklahoma State, the No. 2 team who cruised to the top-seed, would be battling in the championship match rather than the quarterfinals. Still, the face-off between the college golf heavyweights had all the drama everyone had anticipated.
A five-foot birdie putt by Georgia's Brian Harman on the home hole at Inverness Club gave the senior a 1-up victory over Oklahoma State's Rickie Fowler and pushed the Bulldogs passed the Cowboys, 3-2.
"I'm just thrilled that the first time we had match play we had some excitement. That's what this is all about. There have been a couple of coaches that have been detractors of this format. If they had been here today they'd understand why this format is better."
And that was the quote from the losing coach, Oklahoma State's Mike McGraw, who might have earned the school's 11th NCAA title today had the format remained four rounds of stroke play, his Cowboys holding a 13-stroke lead after 54 holes, only to see the advantage wiped away when the match-play bracket got underway.
Harman's final-hole birdie elicited a giant roar from the roughly 100-plus fans surrounding the green, the other Georgia players rushing to congratulate him. It was his third birdie in a row, the lefty All-American making a 10 footer on the 16th hole (after Fowler, an All-American himself, already had birdied the hole), then rolling in a 10-footer on the 17th hole to square the match.
"Rickie played great today. I hung in there as best I could," Harman said. "I hit some really bad shots today. I was really struggling on the front nine. I made a few putts. And those last three holes, I don't know, something just got into me and I said 'I'm ready to win this match right now.' "
It came down to the Harman/Fowler match after Georgia's Adam Mitchell and Russell Henley had pulled out victories over OSU's Kevin Tway__and Trent Leon__and OSU's Peter Uihlein and Morgan Hoffmann knocked of Harris English and Hudson Swafford.
For all the excitement of beating the Cowboys, Georgia coach Chris Haack now must regroup his squad as it heads out to its semifinal match in the afternoon against SEC rival Arkansas. The Razorbacks defeated Washington, 3 and 2, David Lingmerth beating Richard Lee in the deciding match, 3 and 1.
In the other quarterfinal matches, seventh seeded Texas A&M defeated No. 2 seed Arizona State, 3-1-1, with Aggie senior Bronson Burgoon beating Knut Borsheim, 5 and 4, in the match-up of the two teams No. 1 players.
The Aggies will face sixth-seed Michigan, whose Cinderella run at nationals continued when the Wolverines knocked off third seed USC, 3 and 2. Sophomore__Lion Kim__ hit a hybrid from 212 yards on the par-4 17th to a foot, his conceeded birdie beating Matt Giles 2 and 1 for the deciding point when Giles failed to make a 25-foot birdie try.
"I know they're playing with confidence," said Michigan coach Andrew Sapp. "We've been a grinding team the later part of the spring here. Hopefully we can keep it going."
Here's a look at how the semifinal teams have fared against each other:
__No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 8 Georgia
__* Head-to-head record in 2008-09: Georgia 1-0 (Bulldogs won SEC; Razorbacks finish 2nd)
*__No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas A&M
__* Head-to-head record in 2008-09: First meeting
The scoreboard says Georgia senior Adam Mitchell won his match over Oklahoma State's Kevin Tway, 5 and 3, but the opening match of the morning was not without it own subplot.
Mitchell had taken a commanding 5-up lead when on the eighth hole he noticed that he had a 15th club in his bag (an extra wedge). "I hadn't hit a wedge until then, and on the par 5 I hit a little shot in there. i reached to put my club back in and I was like 'Oh no.' "
The penalty in match play is loss of two holes, and when he made a bogey to drop the ninth hole, suddenly Mitchell's lead was only 2 up.
"I just had to refocus," Mitchell said. "I knew I was playing well. I just had to get back and keep hitting good shots."