Sudden-Death win gives UA Championship Berth

GREENSBORO, N.C. – It was an exciting effort to cap a record-setting effort for the Alabama women's golf team at the NCAA East regional, as the Tide won a sudden-death playoff to break an eighth-place tie with Virginia. With the victory, Alabama advanced to the 2006 NCAA Championship for the first time since 1987, to be played in Columbus, Ohio on May 23-26.

The Tide and the Cavaliers finished with identical scores of 887, necessitating the sudden-death playoff at the conclusion of the final round of the event. Only the top eight teams from each of the three regionals throughout the nation advance to the 2006 NCAA Championship.

"We talked all year about practicing with focus and asking a lot of yourself in practice," head coach Mic Potter said. "The reason you do that is that tournaments can come down to one stroke. You can't play loose shots in practice if you expect to be ready in these situations. Our girls have been great about focus since the final round of the SEC championship and today they were rewarded."

In the playoff format, all five players from each team played the 18th hole. Each team eliminated its highest score following the completion of each of the five players' holes, with the team with the lowest cumulative score from the remaining four players advancing.

On the playoff hole, Laura Goodwin had a tough bogey after a three-putt. Audrey Gale had a great up-and-down to put her in position for a par putt, which she sank. Three Virginia players were in that group and recorded two pars and a bogey.

Carina Sorensen, Sarah Sturm and Jenny Suh followed Gale and Goodwin with two UVA competitors.

Sorensen's approach shot landed her on the fringe of the green, where she putted to within 10 inches of the hole on her third shot. She drained the easy putt for a par.

Sturm hit the green on her second shot, but was in a tough position from the top of the green, more than 50-feet from the hole. Sturm executed a perfect first putt, pulling her within a few feet for her par effort, which she knocked down.

The tournament leader through two rounds of play, Suh also hit the green on her approach shot, but like Sturm was in a tough position nearly 75 feet from the hole. Suh hit a perfect third shot, putting her within four feet.

After the final Virginia player missed a par-putt and finished with a bogey, the Tide needed its standout junior to knock down the pressure putt. Suh promptly buried it, moving her team to its first NCAA Championship appearance in more than two decades.

"I was watching the Virginia girl, who had the same putt I did but at a different angle," Suh said. " I was assuming she was going to make it. When she missed, I just decided that I wasn't going to another playoff hole. I just executed it the way I wanted to and it went in."

Tennessee won the East regional team title with an 864, six strokes better than SEC rival LSU. Cal, Florida State and Arizona State made up the remainder of the top five. Auburn was the final SEC school in the East regional to qualify along with hosting Wake Forest and Virginia.

The dramatic victory concluded a three-day stretch in which the Tide set several school records and put together the best post-season NCAA performance in school history. The 887 finish was easily the best 54-hole score by a Tide team in NCAA competition and was the second-best round overall in school history. The previous best finish by an Alabama team in NCAA regional play was a 13th-place finish in 1994.

Alabama also advanced to the NCAA Championship for the first time since the inception of regional play in 1993. The previous Championship appearance for the Tide came before the formulation of the regional format.

The Championship berth was also another post-season coup for Potter, in his first season at the helm of the program. Potter, who led his teams at Furman to 15 NCAA Championship appearance, earned his first Championship berth at UA and the 16th of his career. The Hall-of-Fame coach has six top-10 finishes and an NCAA runner-up performance to his credit in Championship play.

"I think this sets the tone for our program," Potter said. "The girls that are good players want to go to good programs and we proved today that we are one of those. Mostly though, I'm proud of our seniors, who really worked hard and have the opportunity to go to the national championship, which is something everyone wants to be a part of in their college career."

Sturm, a sophomore from Spartanburg, S.C., shouldered the load for the Tide in the final round. She fired a career low 70, two-under par, bettering her previous single-round best of 71. She scored just one bogey and had three birdies on the day and moved up 29 places in the individual standings to finish in a tie for 35th place with rounds of 74, 78 and 71.

Suh, who entered the day with the overall lead on the individual leaderboard, had a rough day, shooting a four-over 76 after two rounds under par to begin the tournament. After only four bogeys in two rounds of play, Suh tallied six in the final round to finish with a 215. Suh's score was good enough for a tie for seventh place, earning her the 21st career top-10 finish of her career.

Regardless of her struggles, particularly with her driver, the playoff might never have happened without a huge 12-foot par putt on the 18th hole. Suh coolly knocked it down, though, helping the Tide earn the opportunity to compete in the playoff.

Even after laboring throughout the final round, Suh still managed to establish several school records at the event. Her 215 was the best 54-hole total for any Tide player at an NCAA event. Suh's opening-day 69 was also the best 18-hole score for any UA competitor in NCAA competition and tied for the sixth-lowest round total overall in Alabama history.

Birmingham native Goodwin continued her late-season improvement with her second-straight round of 75. Goodwin, who was one of the Tide's most reliable performers down the stretch this season, finished with a 228, a new career best for 54 holes. She tallied rounds of 78, 75 and 75 at the event and finished in a tie for 73rd place.

Sorensen fired a 77 in the final round to finish with a 231, good enough for a tie for 84th place. Gale, who had two outstanding rounds to begin the regional, stumbled a bit in the final round, carding an 80. Gale tied for 73rd place with Goodwin with her 228, the second-lowest score of her senior season.

Marci Turner of Tennessee gave the Lady Vols the sweep of honors at the East regional by capturing the individual crown with a 209, two strokes better than runner-up Alissa Kuczka of Arizona State.

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