Clutch Finish Earns Tigers Another SEC Title

Franklin, Tenn.--Back-to-back birdies from Margaret Shirley and Maria Martinez on the 18th hole on Sunday put Auburn over the top as the Tigers won their second straight SEC Women's Golf Championship.

The Tigers held off a strong charge from Tennessee to take a one-stroke victory for the sixth SEC crown in AU women's golf history.

Leading the way was senior Maria Martinez, who shot rounds of 73, 68 and 70 for a five-under-par total to win the individual title by four shots over Marci Turner of Tennessee. Martinez became the fifth individual SEC champion from Auburn and her 211 total is a school record at the SEC Women's Golf Championship.

Martinez said she knew the tournament team title must be in the balance when she was standing on the 18th fairway and saw Auburn coach Kim Evans, Shirley and the crowd get excited as Shirley made her birdie putt that pulled Auburn into a tie with the Lady Vols.

"I didn't know that I would have to make a birdie for us to win the tournament, but from the reaction I knew it had to be close," the senior said.

Martinez noted that it is "a great feeling" to go out as the SEC team champion and individual champion in her final Auburn season. "I have made improvement in my game and I am having my best season and I am happy about that.

"The team played well in the tournament, especially on Saturday when everybody had a good day," Martinez added. "We are going to work on improving for the Ohio State tournament and then for the NCAA regionals and NCAA championship and see if we can get rid of any weaknesses we have in our games, but we are playing well right now."

Competing at the 6,217-yard Ironhorse Course at the Vanderbilt Legends Club, Auburn shot a 293 team total on Sunday to go with rounds of 300 and 282. Georgia, which was in second place after day two, dropped to third with a 299 on Sunday to finish at 885 as a team, 10 shots behind Auburn. Tennessee moved up to second with a 288 on Sunday.

Host Vanderbilt was fourth at 887 and was followed by Arkansas (897), Florida (898), LSU (900), South Carolina (903), Alabama (908), Mississippi State (924), Kentucky (936) and Ole Miss (940).

"Maria Martinez has been playing strong golf all year for us," Evans said. "She was terrific in this tournament and we also had some unsung heroes like Margaret Shirley, who finished third individually. She finished with four birdies on Saturday and had a big birdie on 18 to help us win on Sunday."

Margaret Shirley hits a drive on the 15th hole during Sunday's round.

Shirley posted rounds of 77, 69 and 71 to finish at 217, six shots off the pace. Jessica Lovell had rounds of 76, 71 and 76 to finish in a tie for 16th at seven-over-par 223. Abigale Schepperle shot a 76 on Sunday and finished at 228 in a tie for 30th, one stroke ahead of teammate Nicole Hage, who posted a 77 on Sunday.

Evans said that she was pleased with how her team came through in the clutch again this season after winning the 2005 SEC title in a playoff.

"On the 18th hole Maria saw me give a fist pump from 250 yards away when Margaret made her birdie at 18 and she knew then it was really close," the Auburn coach noted. Shirley had pars on the previous eight holes on the back nine.

Maria Martinez celebrates her birdie putt on the final hole on Sunday.

Martinez had just birdied 17th and did it again on the final hole to give the Tigers the one-stroke victory. "Abigale had a big birdie for us on 18 and Jessica Lovell came through when we needed her," the Auburn coach added.

"It has been a while since we had an SEC individual champion when Daniel Downey won it in 2000. I am very happy for Maria. She has been our leader on the course all season."

Coach Kim Evans (with the trophy for her fifth SEC title) and her Tigers celebrate on Sunday night at Toomer's Corner.

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