Tigers Talk Big Comeback at NCAA Regional

Players and coaches recount the last four holes by the Auburn men's golf team at the NCAA Regional.

Auburn, Ala--The excitement was still palpable on the faces of Auburn golfers and coaches after returning home this weekend after they stormed back on the final four holes of the NCAA Regional at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C., to keep their season alive.

Sitting in 7th place two shots off the qualifying pace, the Tigers shot eight-under-par over the last four holes to surge into third and advance to the NCAA Championships at the historic Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Auburn hit rock bottom after All-American Blayne Barber carded a double-bogey on the par-four 14th hole, which put the Tigers in seventh place and at risk of missing the cut for the NCAA Championships.

With their backs against the wall, the Tigers fought back and caught fire over the last four holes. Niclas Carlsson and Dominic Bozzelli both birdied the 16th hole, while Barber tapped in a birdie after almost holing his 182-yard second shot on the par-four 15th.

The highlight of the Tigers' eight-under-par run happened on the par-three 16th, though, when Barber hit the fourth ace of his career, but the first in tournament play.

"I just hit it and it came off perfect," said Barber. "I said ‘go in' about halfway to the hole, and it hit the ground about 10 feet short of it and then rolled in. Then (Evan) Osteen started running at me from 17 tee box. It was pretty exciting."

"He hit and he was holding his pose, and I tried to look up and find the ball," said assistant coach Evan Osteen. "About the time I did it was coming down, landed about 10 feet short of the hole, took a bounce and rolled in. It was the most unbelievable thing I had ever seen. I looked at him, and he threw his hands up and threw his golf club, and I took off running up the hill and gave him a big hug.

"It was two of the greatest shots I had ever seen," added Osteen. "I mean he could have holed out two shots in a row. But that's what great players do in big situations."

Bozzelli was on the tee box at 17 when Barber hit the ace, but his view was blocked by a tree, he said.

"I heard people cheering, and our assistant coach started running back to the tee," recalled Bozzelli. "He was all pumped up. I found out Blayne made a hole in one, and I had to kind of back off my tee shot a little bit. I got pretty excited out there. I had to take some deep breaths and just focus in on targets."

Auburn head coach Nick Clinard, who was on the 18th hole with Will McCurdy when Barber hit his ace, said he thought the Tigers would need something spectacular to slide into the top-five qualifying spots.

"All of a sudden, Evan, my assistant, is texting me that a couple of guys made some birdies and then he texted me that Blayne made a hole in one," said Clinard. "I thought he was kidding!

"But it was actually true, so all of sudden we posted inside the clubhouse and I'm thinking ‘we've got a chance to win the golf tournament,'" added the head coach. "It's a crazy game. You just got to stay patient and stick to your game plan and kind of see what happens."

Barber, McCurdy and Carlsson would go on to birdie the par-five 18th hole. Even Michael Johnson, whose third round score didn't count, got in on the action with an eagle on 18.

"Now we've done some great things as a team this year and last year, but to put that kind of run together in that situation, I think that really shows kind of what they're made of and how good they really are," said Clinard. "I don't know if it was that they really kind of started to focus a little bit better, but they hit some really quality shots coming down the stretch.

"You know, it was a pretty gutsy performance down the stretch to kind of slide in there, much less to finish third," added Clinard.

The fifth-ranked Tigers now turn their attention to preparing for next week's NCAA Championships with the hope that they can end the season the same way it began–with a win.

In early September, the Auburn men's golf team defeated five Top 20 teams to win the Carpet Capital Collegiate tournament at The Farm Golf Club in Dalton, Ga.—its first win to start a season since 1978.

The Tigers also won the Gator Invitational at the UF Golf Course in Gainesville, Fla., by 16 strokes in early February and the Hootie at Bulls Bay in Awendaw, S.C., by nine stokes at the end of March.

"We've got a lot of character," said Clinard. "We've played well all year—only had one tournament where they finished outside the top three the whole year."

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