__By Ryan Herrington
MILTON, GA.—__Survive and advance is the mantra for the remaining eight schools as the match-play portion of the NCAA Championship gets underway Friday at Capital City Club's Crabapple Course. As it turns out, the strategy also ruled the day during Thursday's final round of stroke play as the field of 30 teams jockeyed for places among the "Elite Eight."
California, trying to cap a storybook season in which it has already won 11 of 13 tournaments, secured the top seed, led by NCAA medalist Max Homa. Still, it was the race for the last few spots that showcased the most drama.
After 54 holes, four schools—UNLV, New Mexico, Arizona State and Texas A&M—were all tied for sixth place with two-over 842 scores. A playoff ensued to eliminate one team, the Aggies winding up the odd-men out when they shot one over par while the other three teams each posted even-par scores.
That A&M was even in the playoff, however, was a point of controversy as the team thought it had finished at one-over when sophomore Tyler Dunlap made an all-world 40-foot putt for par on his final hole, resulting in a celebratory cheer heard around the course. Yet Dunlap's group, which included Arizona State's John Rahm and UCF's Greg Eason, had missed their times at two pace-of-play checkpoints during the round. Rules officials summoned the trio to the clubhouse to discuss what happened during the round, eventually deciding to give Dunlap and Eason one-stroke penalties for slow play.
Rahm, however, did not receive a penalty, allowing the Sun Devils to remain at two over as keep their spot in the playoff. According to NCAA men's Division I golf committee chairman__Mike Carter__, the reason only two of the players were assessed penalties was because officials following the group for its last 11 holes deemed Rahm had been making a concerted effort to speed up the group and get it back into position.
Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins was understandably frustrated with the outcome. "That was the most exciting round of golf I've ever been a part of," Higgins said. "Our guys fought so hard, they gave us everything they had and never quit. They earned it, I'll go to my grave believing that they should be playing tomorrow in the elite eight."
"I feel horrible that was the consequence, but it doesn't effect the decision," Carter said regarding how the penalty stroke sent Texas A&M from getting a berth outright to match play into a playoff for one of the last spots that it ultimately lost.
When the playoff ended, the seeds shook out as follows:
No. 1 California vs. No. 8 Arizona State
No. 2 Georgia Tech vs. No. 7 UNLV
No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 6 New Mexico
No. 4 Texas vs. No. 5 Illinois
The Bears shot a five-under 275 on Thursday to pass second-round leader Georgia Tech and finish with a 16-under 824 total, six strokes better than the Yellow Jackets, who shot a two-over 282.
"I just couldn't be more proud of this group," said Cal coach Steve Desimone. "It's just pretty overwhelming in all honesty, and I know that emotion can only last for a little while because we have got to regroup for tomorrow. But right now we're going to enjoy this for at least a couple hours and then we have to get back to work."
Given the Bears' dominant run this season, avoiding the boys from Berkeley early in the match-play bracket was the preference for the schools that did advance, particularly Alabama, the No. 2 ranked team in the country at year's end. While the Crimson Tide finished tied for third with the Longhorns, the defending NCAA champions who beat 'Bama in the 2012 final, at seven-under 833, Alabama won a tie breaker to get the No. 3 seed and thus avoiding Cal until the championship match if both teams advance that far.
"I just told our guys that they are now in the national tournament, and I congratulated them," Alabama coach Jay Seawell said. "We played really well. … The last few holes are hard. I'd have liked to have seen us finish a little better, but that's all right. That's golf. We have a tee time tomorrow, so we look forward to that opportunity."
__FRIDAY'S QUARTERFINAL PAIRINGS
__No. 1 California vs. No. 8 Arizona State
__10 a.m.—Michael Weaver vs. Austin Quick
10:09—Joel Stalter vs. Max Rottluff
10:18—Max Homa vs. Trey Ka'ahanui
10:27—Michael Kim vs. Spencer Lawson
10:36—Brandon Hagy vs. Jon Rahm
__No. 4 Texas vs. No. 5 Illinois
__10:45—Julio Vargas vs. Thomas Detry
10:54—Toni Hakula vs. Charlie Danielson
11:03—Brandon Stone vs. Thomas Pieters
11:12—Kramer Hickok vs. Brian Campbell
11:21—Cody Gribble vs. Alex Burge
__No. 2 Georgia Tech vs. No. 7 UNLV
__11:30—Seth Reeves vs. Carl Jonson
11:39—Shun Yat Hak vs. A.J. McInerney
11:48—Bo Andrews vs. Nicholas Maruri
11:57—Ollie Schniederjans vs. Kevin Penner
12:06 p.m.—Anders Albertson vs. Kurt Kitayama
__No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 6 New Mexico
__12:15—Bobby Wyatt vs. Victor Perez
12:24—Trey Mullinax vs. Gavin Green
12:33—Scott Strohmeyer vs. Benjamin Bauch
12:42—Cory Whitsett vs. John Catlin
12:51—Justin Thomas vs. James Erkenbeck