It was the Southeastern Conference’s day Monday as stroke play wrapped up in the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. with Mississippi’s Braden Thornberry cruising to the individual championship and conference champion Vanderbilt rolling to medalist honors in the team competition heading into match play.
With the 7,300-yard, par-72 Rich Harvest Farms layout baring its fangs in windy conditions, scores soared, but it didn’t seem to bother Thornberry, a sophomore from Olive Branch, Miss.
Thornberry, competing as an individual at Rich Harvest Farms, carded a solid 1-under-par 71 for a 72-hole total of 11-under 277, four shots clear of runnerup Mason Overstreet, a sophomore at Arkansas from Kingfisher, Okla. who was also competing as an individual.
Thornberry grabbed the opening-round lead with a 6-under 66 and was never far from the lead as he added a 71 in the second round and a 69 in the third round.
“It means a lot to be the champion,” Thornberry told the Old Miss website. “It was a really special week. Really just from the start, got off to a great start, 6-under through the first 12 of the week, that got me started off on the right foot.
“The lead kept kind of creeping up. I tried to just stay in position until (Monday) and play a good round and I was right there.”
Overstreet matched Thornberry’s final-round 71 to finish alone in second at 7-under 281.
Texas’ Scottie Scheffler, a junior from Dallas, had held the lead after the second and third rounds as he carded three straight 68s. But he faltered in the final round with a 78 to finish in a tie for third with two Vanderbilt players at 6-under 282.
Vanderbilt, No. 4 in the latest Golfstat rankings, ended up with three players in the top eight and that helped the Commodores easily finish atop the team standings in qualifying for match play. Vanderbilt and Oregon each carded a 5-over 293, the low round of the day, as the Commodores put together a 13-under total of 1,139.
No. 17 Oklahoma was the only other team to finish under par as the Sooners carded a final-round 304 to finish 12 shots behind Vanderbilt in second at 1-under 1,151.
Big Ten champion Illinois, ranked eighth, posted a 304 to finish third at 2-over 1,154, the fifth straight year Mike Small’s Illini have qualified for match play, a pretty neat feat in its own right. Dangerous Oklahoma State, ranked third, finished fourth at 3-over 1,155 with a final-round 303.
The Pac-12 checked in with two of its best, defending national champion and conference champion Oregon, ranked ninth, and top-ranked Southern California finishing tied for fifth at 6-over 1,158. The Ducks carded that co-day’s-best 5-over 293 while the Trojans struggled in the tough conditions, finishing up with a 311.
Grabbing the final two spots in match play and finishing tied for seventh were No. 5 Baylor and No. 16 UNLV, both of which ended up at 7-over 1,159. Baylor posted a 304 while the Runnin’ Rebels nearly let that sparkling 17-under-par first three rounds go to waste, but held on with a 312 in the final round.
Vanderbilt’s Matthias Schwab, a senior from Austria and the No. 5 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), and Theo Humphrey, a junior from Greenwich, Conn., shared third place in the individual standings with Texas’ Scheffler at 6-under 282. It wasn’t Schwab’s best day as he carded a 3-over 75 while Humphrey had the Commodores’ best score of the day, a solid 2-under 70.
Vanderbilt’s precocious freshman, John Augenstein of Owensboro, Ky., finished tied for eighth at 3-under 285 after matching par in the find round with a 72.
Also for Vanderbilt, Patrick Martin, a sophomore from Birmingham, Ala., struggled with a final-round 81 to finish tied for 62nd at 298 and Will Gordon, a sophomore from Davidson, N.C., was the Commodores’ final counter of the day with a 4-over 76 as he finished tied for 65th at 299.
The rest of the top 10 in the individual chase were all members of teams that will be involved in match play Tuesday.
Illinois’ Dylan Meyer, a junior from Evansville, Ill. and No. 4 in the WAGR, and Southern Cal’s Rico Hoey, a senior from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. and No. 17 in the WAGR, shared sixth place at 4-under 284. Meyer had a final-round 77 while Hoey was one better with a 76.
Sharing eighth place with Vanderbilt’s Augenstein at 3-under 285 were Oklahoma State’s Viktor Hovland, a freshman from Norway, and UNLV’s John Oda, a junior from Honolulu, Hawaii. Both could do no better than a 3-over 75 in the tough conditions and with the team situation very much in mind.
Match play begins bright and early Tuesday morning with four terrific matches pitting Illinois against Southern Cal, the Trojans in match play for the third straight year themselves, Oklahoma against Baylor, Vanderbilt against UNLV and Oklahoma State against Oregon.
The winner of the Illinois-Southern Cal match will face the winner of the Oklahoma-Baylor match and the winner of the Vanderbilt-UNLV match will meet the winner of the Oklahoma State-Oregon match in the semifinals Tuesday afternoon.
Somebody wrote that playing Prairie Dunes Country Club in brutal conditions would be perfect preparation for the NCAA postseason. Oh, that’s right, it was me. And sure enough, three of the Big 12 teams that played their conference championship at Prairie Dunes in the wind and cold are in the final eight.
And maybe throwing some snow in the mix for the Pac-12 Championship at Boulder Country Club wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The Pac-12 has two in the quarterfinals.
Going to match play in the SEC Championship might pay dividends for Vanderbilt. And don’t forget, Illinois won the East Lake Cup way back in November, beating Oregon in the final match.
If you can catch any or all of it on The Golf Channel Tuesday, you’ll be wildly entertained.