March 19, 2012
BRADENTON, Fla. - Cal took defending champion Duke down to the final shot Monday before the Blue Devils pulled out a victory over the Golden Bears in the semifinals of the Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship. The teams were tied at the end of regulation before Duke's Tim Gornik birdied the first extra hole to defeat Cal's Keelan Kilpatrick, propelling his squad into Tuesday's finals against Arkansas.
"These are two really good teams," Cal head coach Steve Desimone said. "Duke's a veteran team and defending champions of this event, and the Golden Bears are pretty good, too. It was just one of those great days of match play where five tremendous players on each team went at each other all day."
Cal will square off with Chattanooga in a third-place match also on Tuesday with the action beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET/5:30 a.m. PT.
Max Homa (4 and 3 over Julian Suri) and Brandon Hagy (2 and 1 over Yaroslav Merkulov) won their semifinal matches for the Bears, while Joël Stalter (2 and 1 to Austin Cody) and Michael Kim (6 and 5 to Brinson Paoloni) were defeated along with Kilpatrick.
The team score was tied 2-2 with Kilpatrick and Gornik the last match on the course and a trip to the finals riding on the outcome. Kilpatrick never trailed during the first 18 holes of the match but Gornik's birdie on the final hole of regulation (par-five No. 3) erased a one-shot lead and moved the match into a sudden death playoff.
Players and coaches from both teams had gathered on the first playoff hole (par-four No. 4) when Gornik sent the Blue Devils into the finals by draining a 35-foot birdie putt. Kilpatrick's subsequent attempt to match Gornik by making a long putt of his own failed.
"As soon as he hit the putt, I went `oh, darn,'" Desimone said of Gornik's clinching putt. "It was dead in the heart, perfect speed and dropped right over the front. It was a clutch finish, no doubt about it. None of us will soon forget the whooping the Duke players made when that putt went in. But we don't hold it against them because we would have been doing the same thing if Keelan had reversed it on him."
The Kilpatrick-Gornik match began on the same hole it ended and stayed even for the first four holes before a Gornik bogey on the par-four eighth gave Kilpatrick a one-hole lead. Kilpatrick increased his lead to two holes with a birdie on the par-four 10th but gave the hole right back when he bogeyed the par-three 11th. A Gornik bogey on the par-three 14th put Kilpatrick ahead by two but he again gave the hole back when he bogeyed the par-five 17th and the match went back to all square on another Kilpatrick bogey on the par-four first. But Gornik would give Kilpatrick the lead once again with his bogey on the par-four second before his dramatic comeback. Homa and Suri were even on the first four holes before three straight Suri bogeys on the par-four fifth, par-three sixth and par-five seventh holes put Homa ahead by three. Homa would pick up another hole when he birdied the 10th. Suri won his only hole with an eagle on the par-four 12th but Homa got the hole back immediately when he birdied the par-five 13th. Suri ran out of holes after both players made par on the 14th and par-four 15th.
"Max Homa and Julian Suri are two of the top 10 players in the country and Max just took him apart," Desimone said. "He's playing at such a high level."
Hagy was down four holes prior to the halfway mark of his match against Merkulov before mounting a huge comeback by winning six of the match's final nine holes. Hagy's comeback started when he took advantage of three consecutive Merkulov bogeys on the 11th, 12th and 13th holes to pull within a single hole. Merkulov made double bogey on the par-four 16th hole to bring the match to all square, gave Hagy his first lead with a bogey on No. 17 and let the match get out of reach when he bogeyed hole No. 1. Hagy had fallen behind early with a double bogey on No. 5, the third hole of the match. Hagy dropped another hole behind when he bogeyed the sixth but got that back when Merkulov picked up his ball on the seventh before Merkulov came back with three consecutive birdies on the par-four eighth, ninth and 10th holes to establish his four-hole lead.
"I've got to give Brandon a lot of credit," Desimone said. "It was a tremendous comeback. He put an amazing amount of pressure on his opponent. He did not have his `A' game but he managed his game really well to pull that one out."
"Max and Brandon are two of the best players in the country and getting better," Desimone added. "It's going to be fun having them around for a while."
Stalter took a lead on the first hole of his match when he birdied two but his bogey on five made the match all square and he would never lead again. Each of the first three times Stalter fell a hole behind he answered by winning a hole to make the match all square again. After a double bogey on No. 7, he evened the match when Cody bogeyed eight. After bogeying No. 10, he took advantage of a Cody bogey on No. 12 to bring the match back to even and after Cody birdied No. 13 he gave the hole right back to Stalter with a bogey on No. 14. But Cody took the lead for good when Stalter bogeyed No. 16 and iced the match on another Stalter bogey on the par-four 18th. Kim fell behind on the first hole of his match when Paolini birdied and he bogeyed No. 1. Paolini had another birdie to win No. 3 and had the match wrapped up after 13 holes following subsequent victories on the fourth, seventh, ninth, 10th and 13th holes, all on Kim bogeys. Kim's won his only hole when Paolini bogeyed No. 5.
"I was as proud of our guys today as I was in the two really tight matches we won yesterday," Desimone said. "They competed for every shot, on every hole. It was that close."
Cal is now 4-2 as a team in match play on the season. Homa and Hagy both improved to 3-0 during the tournament and 5-1 on the season, while Kilpatrick lost for the first time to fall to 4-1-1. Stalter is 1-2 and Kim 0-2-1.
Cal has won a school-record-tying three regular-season tournaments this season and finished in the top five in each of their nine tournaments, including a guaranteed top-four finish at the current Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship. Two of Cal's top-five finishes were second-place showings in which the Bears were defeated by a single shot by host schools Arizona and UNLV at the Arizona Intercollegiate and Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, respectively. One of the team's victories was a co-title with Oregon at the Alister MacKenzie Invitational hosted by the Bears.
"Thinking back I don't recall something like this," Desimone said about the team's series of close finishes. "But most importantly, their competitive spirit, their will to win, and their desire to win over time will be what wins out. The goal tomorrow is to come out of here with a little redemption and go on spring break with their heads up. It's been a wonderful year and I see ever reason for it to keep right on going."
"You've got to go through this to get to where you want to go," Desimone added. "This memory has to sear. Are we disappointed? Yes. But, are there better days ahead? You better well believe it."
Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship (hosted by South Florida)
Bradenton, FL - The Concession Golf Club (par-72, 7,474 yards)
SEMIFINALS - Duke d. Cal, 2-2-1 (Duke wins tiebreaker)
1. Max Homa (Cal) d. Julian Suri (Duke), 4 and 3
2. Brinson Paolini (Duke) d. Michael Kim (Cal), 6 and 5
3. Austin Cody (Duke) d. Joël Stalter (Cal), 2 and 1
4. Brandon Hagy (Cal) d. Yaroslav Merkulov (Duke), 2 and 1
*5. Keelan Kilpatrick (Cal) vs. Tim Gornik (Duke), all square
*Gornik defeated Kilpatrick on first playoff hole