WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — Stanford’s golf team started the season with modest goals after a stretch that made the Tiger Woods Era seem so long ago.
No more. The Cardinal shot a 1-over 281 Saturday and ran away with the NCAA tournament by 12 shots, claiming their first golf championship since 1994, and signaling the resurgence of the program under third-year coach Conrad Ray.
“Our first three years, we were happy with a top-five, a top-three,” senior Matt Savage said once the win was secure. “To finally progress to winning one tournament, and then winning six, and then winning the championship, it’s unbelievable.”
Stanford was a powerhouse when Woods arrived in 1995, and he won an individual title in 1996. That championship eluded the Cardinal this time. Southern California freshman Jamie Lovemark used three consecutive late birdies in his second-consecutive 6-under 64 to win the individual title.
“No words,” Lovemark, a candidate for player of the year, said. His 9-under 271 beat Clemson freshman Kyle Stanley by two shots and Stanford’s Rob Grube by three.
Georgia rallied with a 1-over day to finish second at 1 over, and Lamar and Charlotte shared third, another four shots back. Lamar shot 5 under Saturday.
But the Cardinal’s consistency took the suspense away early.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Zack Miller, who closed with a 1-over 71 on the 6,803-yard Golden Horseshoe Gold Course to finish tied for 15th. He said the Cardinal set a goal this season of winning a tournament for the first time in their careers.
Instead, they won seven, including their eighth national championship.
In a team meeting on Friday night, with the Cardinal leading Coastal Carolina by just two shots heading into the final round, a sense of calm prevailed, Ray said.
“These guys have just fought hard all year and I think they really, truly believed,” Ray said. “To come out on top in this field, it’s a dream for these guys.”
Lovemark, the Pac 10 champion, was three off the lead when the round began. He was four behind Clemson freshman Kyle Stanley when he reached the 14th tee, then followed a par with three consecutive birdies. Bogeys by Stanley at No. 12 and 14 gave Lovemark the lead all to himself, and Stanley came to the final hole needing birdie to tie.
Stanley hit a good drive, but his ball came to rest in a divot. His approach on the par-4 missed the green to the right, and his chip from high grass came up about 5 feet from the cup. Disappointed, he two-putted for his third bogey of the round.
That left Grube as the lone likely challenger. He was 7 under through 14 holes, but three pars and a finishing bogey left him third. The national title was a nice consolation prize, he said, and one the team set as its goal before the season.
“There’s probably only about seven people that thought that was a possibility, but that’s fortunately all you need,” he said after a closing 71 for a 6-under 274 total.
The victory was a nice cap to the season for Lovemark, who plans to leave Sunday for the Palmer Cup that pits amateurs from the United States against Europeans.
“It means a lot,” Lovemark said of the victory. “It means I’ve improved a lot during the course of the year and during the course of the last couple of years.”
But, he said, it doesn’t make him think of turning pro.
“I still know I have a long ways to go,” he said.
Stanley was disappointed to have finished so poorly after starting the day with a share of the lead. He, Grube and Georgia Tech’s Cameron Tringale were all 6 under.
“After the front nine, I was in pretty good shape,” said Stanley, who made the turn at 4-under but finished with a 69. “I just didn’t play that well on the back.”