Illini headed to NCAA final
MILTON, Ga. — Thomas Pieters of Illinois beat Max Homa with a par on the 20th hole to give Illinois a 3-2 victory over top-seeded California on Saturday in the NCAA golf semifinals.
The 15th-seeded Illini will face No. 2 Alabama in the final Sunday, with both seeking their first title. The Crimson Tide beat host Georgia Tech 3-0-2 on the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course.
“We won five tournaments this year,” said Illinois coach Mike Small, whose team beat defending champion Texas on Friday in the quarterfinals. “People think we’re a Cinderella thing. We’re better than people think we are.”
Homa, the tournament individual winner Thursday, three-putted for a bogey on the second extra hole.
Alabama lost to Texas last year in the title match.
California lost after setting an NCAA season record with 11 victories in its last 13 tournaments. The Golden Bears had all five of their starters ranked among the top 25 in the nation.
Illinois’ Charlie Danielson beat Joel Stalter 3 and 2, and Brian Campbell topped Michael Kim 2 and 1. California’s Michael Weaver edged Thomas Detry 1 up, and Brandon Hagy beat Alex Burge 4 and 3.
“There’s no pressure on us,” Pieters said. “I think it’s easier for us to play free. We’re just trying to have fun.”
Pieters, the NCAA individual winner last year, was 3 down through nine holes, before rallying to win the next three holes and even the match. Pieters had a chance to win on the 18th hole, but his 8-foot putt lipped out.
Each player parred the first extra hole. After two good drives at the 20th hole, Pieters hit his approach within 10 feet, and Homa’s wedge took a bad kick and finished 30 feet above the hole. Pieters missed his birdie try and was conceded the par putt. Homa eased his first putt over the ridge that cuts through the green, but the ball rolled 8 feet past and he missed the comebacker.
“Even though I was 3 down, I didn’t get down on myself,” Pieters said. “I told myself to keep hitting good shots and give myself a chance.”
Alabama had little trouble against Georgia Tech. Trey Mullinax, Justin Thomas and Cory Whitsett won their matches before they reached the 18th hole. Mullinax was 2 down through seven holes, but wound up beating Shun Yat Hak 4 and 3. The other two matches were not finished and scored as all-square.
More to come later on IlliniHQ.