NCAA title caps eighth-win season for N.C. State's Hill
__TOLEDO--There are players that have gotten on a roll, and then there's what N.C. State sophomore__Matt Hill has accomplished over the past 11 weeks. In eight tournament starts since early March the sophomore from Brights Grove, Ontario, has won seven times (finishing T-5 in his one other event) and compiled a 69.6 stroke average. In 22 rounds he had shot worse than 72 just once.
The only thing then that could put a stop to his run is the actual end of the 2008-09 college season, but not before Hill captured the biggest title of them: NCAA individual champion.
Starting Thursday's final round of the 112th NCAA Championship with a share of the lead at four under par, Hill posted his third straight 69 at Inverness Club to finish with a six-under 207 total, two strokes clear of Clemson's Kyle Stanley (final-round 66) and three ahead of USC's Tim Glissmeyer (66), Oklahoma State's Rickie Fowler (68) and TCU's Tom Hoge (70).
(Blogger's note: Thirty players from the afternoon wave failed to finish their third rounds before darkness fell Thursday night. They'll return to finish play Friday, although none of them are within nine strokes of Hill's winning score).
"The whole season has just been amazing. To win this is icing on the cake," said Hill, who also won once in the fall to give him nine victories for the season, shattering the Wolfpack's previous one-year best of three.
With the NCAA title, Hill is second player to be medalist at his conference championship, an NCAA Regional and nationals (Tiger Woods was the first in 1996). He also appears to be lock to claim the Jack Nicklaus and Fred Haskins national player-of-the-year awards.
"I don't know how to describe it other than magical," said N.C. State coach Richard Sykes. "I'm not sure if at the start of the year you could have imagined anyone having a season like this. Really magical is the best term you can use for it."
Hill started on the 10th tee and made one birdie and one bogey over his first nine holes to turn at even for the day. A birdie on his 11th hole (No. 2) was followed by a clutch up and down for par on his 12th, the difficult par-3 third. "That really helped me keep my momentum going," Hill said, of particular importance given that he was entering Inverness' toughest stretch of holes
After a par on his 13th, Hill birdied his 14th, rolling in a 15-foot putt, that allowed him to take the lead at six under as Hoge, at one point up by two over Hill, bogeyed two straight holes while playing in the threesome just ahead.
A bogey on his 16th hole, when Hill couldn't get up and down from in front of the green after just missing the fairway off the tee, dropped Hill's lead back to one stroke, but when he reached the green in two on his 17th, the par-5 eighth hole, a two-putt birdie from 35 feet gave him a cushion.
After Hoge's bogey-bogey slip late in the round, it was Stanley, playing in the same group as Hill and competing in his final college event, who applied the most pressure on Hill. The 2007 NCAA runner-up also went for the green in two on the 17th, but left ball shot in the right greenside bunker and couldn't hole a 10-foot birdie try that would have put more pressure on his ACC rival.
"I knew I needed to make a couple of birdies down the stretch," Stanley said. "You've got to tip your hat to Matt. He played some incredible golf. He's used to winning and I think that showed in how he handled himself."
Hill agreed that the success earlier this spring made any pressure of trying to claim the national championship a little less daunting.
"I definitely felt a lot more comfortable than I might have say a year ago," Hill said. "The past experience was a huge benefit."
After a year in which he had done little else, Hill can profess to one simple truth.
Winning never gets old.
*Matt Hill *photo by J.D. Cuban