Tiger Golfer Just Misses National Title

Stillwater, Okla.--Although he is not coming home with the first place trophy, junior Lee Williams has plenty of reasons to be proud of his performance at the 2003 NCAA Men's Golf Championship.

The junior from Alexander City led the Tigers to an eighth place overall finish, the second highest team placement in school history. Finishing in second by himself, two strokes off the pace by Alejandro Canizares of Arizona State, Williams was in the hunt for the individual title until the final holes on Friday. A pair of drives that narrowly missed the fairways and caught the nasty rough at 16 and 17. That allowed Canizares to catch the Auburn golfer.

"I am proud of Lee for the way he handled himself and represented Auburn out here," says Auburn coach Mike Griffin. "You know it has to be personally disappointing to him to have a chance to win and finish second. He has held his head up and did a great job after the tournament in his interview with the media. He said that sure, he is disappointed, but it is just a golf tournament and he said that he will be a better person and player for going through this."

Leading after the first three rounds and by two strokes going into 16 on Friday, he suffered double bogeys at the next two holes. He ran into trouble when his drive caught the rough and his approach shot to the green put him in trouble forcing the six.

On 17th, he just narrowly missed the fair--about two club lengths, Griffin notes--and his ball was in very thick grass next to a tree. After figuring out a way to get back into play, the ball actually rolled over the club on his swing and backed up about 18 inches as he tried to get it out of trouble. "I have never seen that before," Griffin said."

Williams was still in trouble, but got out of it on the next shot, but by the time he holed his putt, he had fallen behind Canizaro, who had a final round 69 that included bogeys on both 16 and 17 and a birdie on 18.

Williams, who had birdies on the par five 18th in the first three rounds, had a great chance for another. "Lee played it real smart," he said. "He laid up and pitched a edge in about eight feet for his birdie putt. He rolled it right over the lip. At the time, that looked big, but with the two-stroke margin that putt didn't matter in the end.

Williams finished at one-over-par 289, one stroke ahead of Matthew Rosenfeld of Texas and Chris Stroud of Lamar. There were a variety of reasons for the high scores.

"It is the toughest course that I have ever played," says Williams. He says the severity of the rough and having thick woods right next to the fairways caused many players to lose balls and strokes. "Fortunately, I didn't lose a ball in the tournament and that helped."

Griffin notes that many holes required golfers to hit extremely tough shots. He said 17, a par four 470-yard, was like trying to hit your ball "down a bowling alley" with big trouble to the right and left.

Although the Tigers improved on their No. 14 national ranking prior to the event, Williams says the team is not satisfied. "We know we could have played better," he says. "This course is made for straight hitters and that is the type of team we have, but in this tournament we weren't always hitting it straight and that hurt. We know that we were capable of finishing in first place."

Clemson won the team title at 39-over-par. Auburn was at that number going into the final round before shooting its worst round of the event to finish at plus 63 in eighth place.

Williams was attempting to become just the second AU golfer to win the men's individual NCAA title. Chip Spratlin did that in 1995 and was on the 1994 team that finished seventh, AU's best team effort at the NCAA Tournament.

"Getting to these nationals was something that was our goal at the beginning because every team in America wanted to get here to see this," Griffin says. "I wish we could have done better, but then again, like I say, if someone had looked at us and said we were going to have a Top 10 finish we might have felt pretty good about that."

Coach Mike Griffin

Griffin says after spending the week watching the action at the Karsten Creek Golf Club, it is understandable why the scores are so much higher than is normal in college golf tournaments, even on very tough courses. "This is a very, very difficult course," he says. "It makes golfers hit shots they don't want to hit.

"It was an unusual tournament," he adds. "I would be on the course watching our guys play and they would have trouble with a hole and I would be worried that we were falling back, but I would look at the scoreboard and we had actually moved up a spot. For comparison, we played an NCAA Tournament at Hazeltine, which is one of the toughest courses the pros play. I believe that tournament was won at 28-over-par and in this one Clemson won it at 39-over-par."

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