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First-place regional finish clinches NCAA Championships berth

As the saying goes, what a difference a year can make.

For the Stanford men’s golf team, the difference between the 2013 Columbus Regional and the 2014 Eugene Regional is the chasm separating satisfaction and disappointment, victory and defeat and — most importantly — moving on and going home. This time, the Cardinal are on the right side of the divide.

After tasting the bitterness of failure at the 2013 Columbus Regional courtesy of its seventh-place team finish, Stanford washed away any residual feelings on Saturday with a sweet victory at the Eugene Regional Championships.

Outgoing junior Patrick Rodgers made it a sweep of the medalist honors for the Card, winning the event by six strokes and crushing the field in the process. The soon-to-be professional golfer now has 11 individual wins in his illustrious collegiate career, tying the program record held by Tiger Woods. He has but one chance left to break the tie — at the NCAA Championships. The story truly does appear to be writing itself; destiny is afoot.

(CASEY VALENTINE/isiphotos.com)

Freshman Viraat Badhwar (above) was one of only three Cardinal golfers, along with junior Patrick Rodgers and senior Cameron Wilson, to place in the top 20, finishing 15th. (CASEY VALENTINE/isiphotos.com)

“Happy to advance today, great to win our fourth tournament in a row on a very difficult and demanding golf course in Eugene Country Club,” said Stanford head coach Conrad Ray. “Neat to see Patrick Rodgers pick up his 11th win and tie Tiger’s school record. He really had full command of his game and created a lot of separation by hitting his ball in the fairway a lot and putting well. So proud of him, and it would be neat to see him maybe break the record at NCAAs here next week.”

As in their victory at the Pac-12 Championships in late April, the Cardinal were in control from Thursday’s first gun until the last scorecard was signed on Saturday afternoon. Ray’s quintet shot out of the gate with a 4-under 276 team score in Thursday’s fourth round, a solid performance which afforded the Card a four-shot lead over Oklahoma and a 10-stroke advantage over third place.

Unsurprisingly, the effort was spearheaded by Rodgers, who turned in a marvelous 4-under 66 scorecard, which included five birdies over a seven-hole stretch and put him atop the individual leaderboard — a position he would never relinquish. Sophomore David Boote was the only other Stanford player under par in the opening 18, carding a 1-under 69 thanks to four birdies on his back nine. The Card also counted freshman Viraat Badhwar’s even-par 70 and senior Cameron Wilson’s 1-over 71.

Friday was much of the same for the squad, which has not lost a tournament since its runner-up placing at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters in early March. Though its 2-over 282 cumulative score didn’t match its Thursday number, Stanford still expanded its lead over the Sooners to nine shots. Rodgers followed up his 66 with a four-birdie, one-bogey 3-under 67. Wilson — playing in his second-to-last NCAA event — got into the red with a steady 2-under 68 round that put him T-2nd in the individual race.

But despite the comfortable lead, the Card knew the tournament wasn’t over until it was truly over. Stanford was within one shot of the lead at last season’s regional but fizzled out with a 14-over performance in the final round that denied the team a trip to the NCAA Championships.

Though the Cardinal similarly struggled in their final round in Eugene — recording a nearly identical third round score to that at Columbus in 2013 — they maintained their sizeable lead and held off a hard-charging Oregon for the regional title. With none of its individuals breaking par, Saturday witnessed Ray’s unit shoot 15-over 295 on the veritable Eugene Country Club. The tumble, however, coupled with a solid round from the host Ducks, still wasn’t enough to remove Stanford from its perch at the top.

Ultimately, the Card bested their Pac-12 rivals by a single stroke and defeated third-place Oklahoma by seven shots. Rodgers’ 1-over 71 was little more than a blip as he claimed the individual title by six shots over Oregon’s Thomas Lim; Wilson’s 3-over 74 dropped him to T-5th. Badhwar was the only other Cardinal in the top 20, finishing in a tie for 14th.

“The conditions got faster and the hole locations more challenging as the weekend went on, and it was neat to see our guys hang in there today even though we didn’t have our best golf or best day,” Ray remarked. “Credit to their play the first couple days to open up that type of lead on the course that we did.”

Saturday marked a break in the encouraging trend of strong final rounds the Card have been turning in over the course of the spring season. If it is to capitalize on its legitimate shot at the national title, Stanford must bring its A-game whether it’s the first round or the last, whether it’s up by nine or down 19. But Ray knows that at this point, the proverbial hay is in the barn and there’s no sense at pushing his players this deep in the season.

“The guys will have a couple days to catch their breath and then we’re off to Hutchinson, Kansas, on Wednesday most likely,” Ray said of the team’s schedule for this week. “We’ll focus on playing in the wind a little bit this week, keeping the ball down and maybe doing some match play strategy and discussion, preparing for the Final Eight, hopefully if we get there. Overall, just keeping the game polished. The guys have been in good form, so I think a big part of our next few days is making sure they’re well-rested and caught up in school as well.”

Stroke play at the NCAA Championships begins Friday and continues through Monday. If Stanford finishes in the top eight after the completion of stroke play, it will move on to the match play portion of the event, which starts Tuesday, May 27, and will end on May 28.

Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Cameron Miller

Cameron Miller is a sports desk editor for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 246 and is the men's and women's golf writer. He also writes on NCAA-related matters. Cameron is also a Stanford student-athlete, competing on the cross country and track and field teams. He is originally from Bakersfield, California, but spends most of his time away from the Farm on the state's Central Coast. Contact him at cmiller6@stanford.edu.
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