2007 Stanford Men's Golf NCAAs Coverage:
Day Three - 18 Holes to a Championship
Day Two - Golf Halfway Home, Still Leads NCAAs
Day One - Cardinal Claim Lead After First Day of NCAAs
Preview - Golf Swinging for NCAA Title
Statistically their worst day of this 2007 NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship, Saturday was certainly the sweetest for Stanford. The Cardinal wrapped up a National Championship, finishing 11-under for the four-day tournament in Williamsburg (Va.) at the Golden Horseshoe Gold Course.
The margin of victory for the #2-ranked Cardinal was considerable - 12 strokes ahead of #1-ranked Georgia. Stanford was the only team to play under par each of the first three rounds this week, and they alone in the field of 30 finished the tournament under par. The Cardinal's final round was one-over, and that came on the heels of two bogeys from the final two Stanford players on the 18th hole.
"I think it's a testament to the golf course," says head coach Conrad Ray of the scoring this week. "This is just an awesome place to hold a championship like this because it rewards good shots, but if you get too aggressive and greedy, it will penalize you in a heartbeat. Our gameplan all week was to play the percentage plays. Hit it in the center of the green. Take two putts. If you get a good look at birdie, knock it in. Keep the ball out of the water on the par-three's. We were really able to do that most of the week."
It was a wire-to-wire lead for the Cardinal this week, on top of the leaderboard at the end of all four rounds of these NCAAs. At the end of Friday, Stanford looked like they would have a fight on their hands. The upstarts from Coastal Carolina made a hard charge to finish just two strokes behind the Cardinal after 54 holes, and the Chanticleers at one point on the third day owned a six-stroke lead. That flash faded late Friday and plummeted further on Saturday, with Coastal Carolina shooting 18-over on the day.
Stanford meanwhile was off to a solid start in the final round. First off the tee was freshman Joseph Bramlett, and he birdied the first hole. After another birdie on #3, he was two-under. By the turn, the frosh was leading the way for the Cardinal at three-under. Senior Matt Savage was Stanford's high scorer throughout the day and thus was their non-counter, suffering bogey or worse on seven holes. That placed heavy pressure on every other Stanford golfer - any mistake would count against the team score. With junior Rob Grube and senior Zack Miller both shooting even through the front nine, it was up to sophomore Daniel Lim to pull down the Cardinal's score. He quietly shot two-under on the front nine, helping the team to a five-under score at the turn.
"Life works out in interesting ways because all we did all year was try not to talk about the results. Let's just worry about the stuff we can control," Ray offers. "I think this team really bought into that, and they were able to do that all year. Today it worked out again. This was just a really gutty performance, and I'm really proud of the guys."
The back nine was not as kind to the Cardinal, which came as no surprise. The entire NCAA field has had high scores on holes #10 and #12 throughout the week, with those two ranking in the top three scores over par all every day of the tournament. Stanford has been hit particularly hard on those holes, and Saturday was no exception. Bramlett busted his beautiful day with double-bogey and bogey, and the combined five players scored 10-over on those two holes.
The only player to escape those holes unscathed Saturday was Grube, who was also in the hunt for the individual crown. He would finish third in the tournament, trailing players from USC and Clemson who not coincidentally both competed as individuals on the final day - sans team competition concerns. Grube was tied for second place at seven-under after a birdie on #13, just two strokes behind the leader with five holes to play. He played par the next four holes and then had to chip from the light rough on #18 and missed his par put. That final bogey dropped him to even on the day and six-under for the tournament.
This is the second top-five individual finish for Grube at the NCAAs. He tied for fifth place in 2005 as a freshman.
Stanford's team score climbed on the back nine, but the rest of the field was having an even worse time on this very difficult fourth day. Of the top 15 teams after the 54-hole cut, just one school, Lamar, was able to shoot under par for the day.
With the Cardinal leading by double digits midway through the back nine, any suspense on the final day had suddenly dissipated. Stanford would be imminently crowned the 2007 NCAA Champion.
"It really hasn't hit home," says Miller of Stanford's Championship. "I saw that we were atop the leaderboard with a 13-stroke lead with a couple to play, but it still really hasn't hit home. This course was a great course. It set up perfectly for us. Everyone is all smiles right now. Everyone is elated."
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Ray echoes. "Hats off to these guys. They fought hard all week. Thanks to Golden Horseshoe and all the people in this area. It's been an awesome week for us."
Looking at recent history, this national title came out of nowhere. The Cardinal did not make the NCAAs a year ago, and they last made the cut to play in the final day back in 1996, when a sophomore by the name of Tiger Woods prowled the greens in cardinal and white. The school had won seven NCAA Championships, but none since 1994.
But Stanford exploded onto the collegiate golf scene this year with a banner season. They won the first tournament they played back in September and tallied a total of six wins before this Championship. The Cardinal were suspiciously spectacular in the eyes of many in the college community, particularly after a disappointing seventh-place finish two weeks ago at the NCAA West Regional. But the computer and coaches rankings that put Stanford #1 or #2 in the nation all year proved plenty credible after this week's results.
Stanford is back in a very big way in men's golf.
The Cardinal should continue hoisting hardware in the coming years, with the young talent on the roster returning and more on the way. Of the 16 scores that counted this week, 10 were posted by players who are coming back next season. Also on the roster is freshman Jordan Cox, who did not travel for these NCAAs but was the #1 recruit in the nation a year ago. Stanford additionally has on tap an incoming class of freshman signed last November that includes two of the top five high school seniors in the nation.
At the center of this remarkable rebuild is Ray, who was a member of the 1994 National Champion team and also played on the fourth-place and second-place NCAA teams in 1995 and 1996. In his first year as Stanford's head coach (also his first year in coaching), Ray took Stanford in 2005 to the NCAAs. Now, well ahead of his turnaround schedule, he has a National Championship in just his third year.
Shortly after the conclusion of the final round, Ray was given the Eaton Golf Pride Dave Williams Award as the the National Coach of the Year by the Golf Coaches Association of America. Bramlett was also named to the five-man NCAA Division I All-Freshman Team.
"Conrad Ray has done so much for this program," Miller maintains. "He came in here and instilled a respect for him and the coaching staff, for the strength staff and for each other, most importantly. He's done a great job with recruiting - brought in guys who are really competitive and who have upperclass games. Hats off to Conrad. He's one of the main reasons we have been successful."
For the senior class of Miller, Savage and Matt Shin, the national title caps a four-year experience that none of them could have forecast.
"It's unbelievable," Miller emotes. "At the beginning of our freshman year, this really wasn't possible. To culminate in this, it's really a dream."
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