HUTCHINSON, Kan. – The No. 3-seeded LSU Tigers earned their place in the Final Four of match play after scoring a decisive 4-1 victory over the No. 6-seeded UCLA Bruins in their quarterfinal match Tuesday morning to set up an SEC showdown with No. 2 seed and defending national champion Alabama in the semifinal round at the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championships.
Senior Smylie Kaufman, juniors Ben Taylor and Curtis Thompson and sophomore Zach Wright each put the Tigers on the scoreboard with wins in their respective matches as LSU cruised into the NCAA Semifinals to face the Crimson Tide in a match that is scheduled to tee off at 2 p.m. CT at Prairie Dunes Country Club.
Just one win in match play separates the Tigers from an opportunity to play for their fifth national championship in program history, but they must take down the defending NCAA Champions to do so.
Alabama, which also scored a 3-2 win in its quarterfinal match on Tuesday morning while dispatching No. 7 seed SMU, has featured in the national championship match in each of the last two seasons. The Crimson Tide won the program’s first national championship a year ago with a 4-1 victory over Illinois in the national championship match after also finishing as the NCAA runner-up to Texas in 2012.
It’s a national semifinal that also features the top two teams from the SEC Championships last month when Alabama won its third-straight conference crown with LSU finishing as this year’s SEC runner-up.
LSU and Alabama will square off on live television as Golf Channel will broadcast both semifinal matches beginning at 4 p.m. CT this afternoon that also feature No. 1 seed Stanford against No. 4 seed Oklahoma State.
The SEC rivals finished 54 holes of stroke play qualifying in a tie for second place in the team standings as both LSU and Alabama fired teams scores of 4-under par 836 in three rounds to earn their spot in the match play competition. They have certainly matched one another shot-for-shot through five days of action at Prairie Dunes Country Club after advancing to the Final Four with victories in the quarterfinals.
“The guys played solid,” said LSU head coach Chuck Winstead following his team’s victory. “UCLA has a very good team, and they were up early on us, which is the reason I dropped back with Zach Wright a little bit because I knew it was going to come down to the last match. We really played well down the stretch to put our team in a good position.”
Kaufman clinched the win for the Tigers with his 2-up victory over UCLA’s Jonathan Garrick in Match 3. In what proved to be a tight match throughout, neither led by more than one hole over the other until Kaufman’s par at the par-four ninth hole that sealed his 2-up victory and gave the Tigers a decided 3-1 advantage in the match with only Wright still on the course.
Kaufman took the lead for good in his match with an eagle 3 at the par-five seventh hole to take a 1-up lead with just two holes to play. He finished his round at No. 9 after teeing off from the back nine to start the day.
Taylor, the team’s top performer in stroke play qualifying, scored the first point for the Tigers in Tuesday’s quarterfinal with UCLA as he stormed to a 4&3 victory over Bruin standout Anton Arboleda as they played only 15 holes in their match. Taylor was actually 2 down to Arboleda through 3 holes after teeing off from the back nine, but quickly squared the match with pars at the par-four 13th and par-three 15th holes. After grabbing a lead for the first time with a par at the par-four third hole, Taylor sealed the match by a score of 4&3 as he won four-straight holes at Nos. 3-6 to put the Tigers on the scoreboard.
The Bruins collected their only point of the match when Loren Chan drew UCLA level at 1-1 in the contest with a 4&3 victory of his own over Tiger junior Stewart Jolly as they also picked up after 15 holes.
But Thompson gave the Tigers a lead they would not relinquish thanks to his 1-up victory over Preston Valder as LSU regained the lead by a 2-1 margin. The match came down to the final hole after they played 17 holes at all square. A par by Thompson and a double bogey by Valder on No. 9 gave the point to the Tigers for a crucial 2-1 advantage.
After Kaufman clinched the quarterfinal victory for the Tigers, Wright polished off the win with his 2&1 victory over Matt Pinizzotto in Match 5. Wright found himself 2-down after just three holes, but bounced back for a 1-up lead at the turn with a birdie at the par-four 14th, a par at the par-three 15th and a birdie at the par-four 18th hole. Wright and Pinizzotto traded holes at No. 1 and No. 2, before Wright made birdie at No. 7 and par at No. 8 to finish his 2&1 victory in the match.
“Ball in the fairway, ball on the green, ball in the hole, you know, nothing fancy,” Winstead said of what he told Wright when he dropped back to coach his sophomore early in the round. “We just tried to play our game. He was 2-down when I picked him up, and we won a couple holes pretty quick. We missed a couple of short birdie putts but we kept fighting. He did well.”
NCAA Men's Golf Match Play
May 27, 2014
All Times Central
(3) LSU 4, (6) UCLA 1
1. Curtis Thompson (LSU) def. Preson Valder (UCLA), 1UP
2. Ben Taylor (LSU) def. Anton Arboleda (UCLA), 4 and 3
3. Smylie Kaufman * (LSU) def. Jonathan Garrick (UCLA), 2UP
4. Lorens Chan (UCLA) def. Stewart Jolly (LSU), 4 and 3
5. Zach Wright (LSU) def. Matt Pinizzotto (UCLA), 2 and 1
* Clinched match
(2) Alabama 4, (3) LSU 1
Game 1: Bobby Wyatt (UA) def. Ben Taylor, 3 and 2
Game 2: Robby Shelton (UA) def. Stewart Jolly (LSU), 2 and 1
Game 3: Tom Lovelady (UA) def. Smylie Kaufman (LSU), 1 UP
Game 4: Trey Mullinax (UA) def. Curtis Thompson (LSU), 4 and 2
Game 5: Zach Wright (LSU) def. Cory Whitsett (UA), 1 UP
NCAA Team Results/Schedule
Match 1: (2) Alabama def. (7) SMU, 3-2
Match 2: (3) LSU def. (6) UCLA, 4-1
Match 3: (1) Stanford def. (8) Illinois, 3-2
Match 4: (4) Oklahoma St. def. (5) Georgia Tech, 4.5-0.5
Match 5: 1:30 p.m. - (3) LSU vs. (2) Alabama
Match 6: 2:20 p.m. - (1) Stanford vs. (4) Oklahoma St.
Final (May 28)
Match 7: 2:10 p.m.