Golfers Win SEC Crown In Sudden-Death Playoff

On a wild final day at the SEC Women's Golf Championship, Auburn lost the lead, but took advantage of a second chance for victory.

Tunica, Miss.--Junior Maria Martinez's four-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole enabled the Tigers to hold off a late push by the Georgia Bulldogs as Auburn won the 2005 SEC Women's Golf Championship.

Auburn held a three-shot lead over LSU going into the final round. The Tigers enjoyed a 12-shot margin early on the back nine on Sunday's third and final round, but UGA chipped away at that edge and took a one-stroke lead before finishing in a tie with the Tigers at 904.

That set up a sudden death playoff with all five players from each team participating before AU could win its second SEC title in the past three seasons and fifth since the event started in 1981.

"Georgia and Arkansas played really well down the stretch and we didn't," says Auburn coach Kim Evans. "However, once we got into the playoffs we really stepped it up and everybody hit the ball well and we were able to pull it out. I am really happy for this group, which is really a young team. It was a big victory for us, one we really needed."

After flying home on Sunday evening, the Tigers celebrated the title by rolling Toomer's Corner. From left to right are Diana Ramage, Maria Martinez, Nicole Hage, Jessica Lovell and Coach Kim Evans.

The playoff began at hole No. 1 on the Tunica National course. Both the Tigers and Bulldogs posted pars to move the match to a second sudden death hole.

"By the time we got to the playoff, it wasn't about golf," Evans says. "It was like a boxing match out there. It was a matter of survival. I am so proud of the toughness our team showed in the playoff."

As is the case with all college tournaments, the top four scores from the team's five players count. Martinez was the last to putt on number two after Georgia had made four pars and one bogey, which was not counted. The Tigers had four pars so the match was going to a third playoff hole if Martinez missed the birdie.

Sophomore Nicole Hage and Martinez were Auburn's top finishers. They shot 10-over-par 217 to tie for seventh place. Hage had an eight-foot putt roll in the cup and slip out on 18 that would have given the Tigers a win in regulation.

Hage was the first round leader with a 69 and was still tied for the lead after Saturday's round when she shot a 76, but fell off the pace with an 81 on Sunday. Martinez shot 74, 75 and 77.

Senior Diana Ramage and freshman Margaret Shirley tied for 15th with totals of 228. Ramage shot a 76 on Sunday while Shirley slumped to an 81. Evans notes that Ramage's escape from trouble on 18 to finish regulation with a par was a key to the Tigers making the playoff.

Jessica Lovell shot a 77 on Sunday to finish in a tie at 30th place with a 233 total.

Coach Kim Evans

"The course was a tough one and the putting was tricky," says Evans, whose team had rounds of 291, 302 and 311. "We got worse every day until the playoff, but we found a way to win," the coach says. "That was a tough way to win a championship."

It was a fourth SEC championship for Evans, whose Tigers will find out next week where they will be sent for the NCAA regional qualifying for a spot in the NCAA Women's Golf Championship, which will be held May 17-20 at Sunriver Resort in Bend, Oregon.

"I don't know where the NCAA is going to send us for the regional," the coach says. "I expect we will be seeded anywhere from third to sixth nationally and the teams go to the regionals based on the seedings." The University of Florida, Texas Tech and the University of New Mexico will be the three regional hosts.

Maria Martinez defeated teen sensation Michelle Wie two years ago at the U.S. Amateur following Martinez's freshman season at AU when she was a second team All-SEC pick.

Commenting on her birdie to end the tournament, Martinez said, "I knew I had to make it. I tried not to think about that though, and key on my routine. I saw the putt and felt it and I hit it solid. After I hit it I knew it was going in. We are all really excited about it."

Arkansas finished third in Tunica, just one shot behind the Tigers and Bulldogs with a 295 round on Sunday. LSU, which shot a 310 22-over-par on Sunday, and Tennessee tied for fourth at 906.

The rest of the field included South Carolina in seventh with a 914, Kentucky in eighth at 923, Vanderbilt at ninth at 927, Alabama at 10th with a 933, Mississippi State at 11th with a 947 and host Ole Miss was 12th with a 969 total.

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