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Oklahoma State Bests Auburn, Gets Alabama for the 2018 National Title

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STILLWATER, Okla. — The stroke play portion of the NCAA Championship was dramatic as Duke (!) led through three rounds, and Oklahoma State needed a final round push to win by 8. The quarterfinals of match play on Tuesday morning was certainly dramatic as OSU needed a late dagger from Austin Eckroat.

The tension seemed to build all day and all week at Karsten Creek as OSU pushed for its 11th national championship, but then it fizzled late in the afternoon as OSU dusted Auburn 3-2 in the semis. Somehow, their 3-2 match was a much bigger blowout than the one they could have won 5-0-0 in the morning against A&M had all the matches gone the distance and players not picked up early after it was over.

Despite the final score being close, OSU was never in danger on the back nine of blowing its big lead. Here’s a quick recap of the five matches.

Viktor Hovland wins 4 and 3: Hova has been OSU’s most consistent player all week, and he was again on Tuesday. My buddy Sean Martin dubbed his followers Hova’s Witnesses. Elite.

Matthew Wolff loses 2 and 1: OSU’s star came back to earth but only after his opponent Trace Crowe went out in 33. Wolff brawled with him to 17 but couldn’t take him to the last.

Kristoffer Ventura loses 5 and 4: Ventura is now the only Poke without a win in match play.

Austin Eckroat wins 3 and 2: Eckroat clinched the morning session and did the deed again in the afternoon with a filthy up and down on No. 16. True freshman.

Zach Bauchou wins 4 and 3: Bauchou said he found something for the afternoon, and it showed. OSU’s anchor on Wednesday seems like he’s starting to feel it a little bit. Could be bad for Bama.

The story of the day, though, was Eckroat. Obviously the shot he hit into 18 on Tuesday morning will live on in lore (especially if OSU goes on to win), but twice in the same day he sent his team to the following round. He gets overshadowed a bit by a supernova like Wolff, but he’s showing why he’s, as a true freshman, starting for the No. 1 team in the country.

“I was an Oklahoma State fan ever since I was a kid. I’ve had season tickets to the football games since I can remember,” said Eckroat. “I wore Swinging Pete whenever I was playing in my junior tournaments at eight years old. Yeah, it’s always been a huge goal of mine to play golf for Oklahoma State and contribute to winning a national championship.

“I came here to contribute to the team and win a national championship. That’s the overall goal.”

Tuesday afternoon was a reprieve for Poke fans, especially after Tuesday morning. But head coach Alan Bratton knows that this was a four round tournament and only three of them are over. OSU’s reward for 288 holes of stroke play and 10 matches that ultimately tilted in their favor on Tuesday will be a date with Alabama in the finals on Wednesday afternoon.

The Tide came into the week as the No. 6 team in the country and grabbed the No. 6 seed after stroke play. Tuesday’s finale will be a rematch of the 2014 national championship, which Alabama won 4 and 1 at Prairie Dunes Country Club. The Tide toasted Duke on the other side of the bracket 5-0 (!) on Tuesday afternoon and will advance to their fourth (!) match play final since 2009.

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The Pokes will try and reverse some insidious trends from the past decade. No team has ever won match play from the No. 1 spot in stroke play. Oklahoma State has been turned away twice as the stroke play champ — in both 2009 and 2010 — and are hoping that the third time is magic in Stillwater.

“We had a lot of goals for the week, and we took care of the first one in the stroke play,” Bratton said. “Next, was to win the first match, then win the semifinal match. That’s three down and the ultimate goal tomorrow. I’m just pleased from our guys. We’ve had contributions one through five in the lineup this week, so I’m pleased with our play. We’ve got a job to do tomorrow.”

Bratton has been clamoring for more fans and more noise all week, and Wednesday afternoon will surely be far wilder than Tuesday afternoon was. Oklahoma State has so much on the line over those final five matches. They can tie the all-time record for most wins in a season with 10 and bring home their 11th national championship but first since 2006. They have already matched the mark for consecutive victories in a season with seven and have an opportunity to put the exclamation mark on one of the most historic seasons at a school with no shortage of historic seasons.

And they have a chance to do so on their home course against a team that bested them in the finals just four years ago. What feels like a boring inevitability for some is the fulfillment of the highest expectations for others.

Eckroat said it. You go to OSU to win championships, and he has a chance to get No. 1 on Wednesday alongside his true freshman counterpart in Wolff and a glut of other Stillwater studs. OSU has had plenty of opportunities to give away their destiny, and they haven’t. Now they’re three points from pay dirt. So close, but maybe for some this is as close as they’ll ever get.

Golf is funny. OSU should win — they have better golfers and are playing at home — but this sport doesn’t reward should. It’s a meritocracy, and on Wednesday OSU and Bama will take that test to its ultimate end.

The Cowboys and the Tide for the biggest trophy in college golf with orange all over the yard. Three points from history. Two points from disappointment. The margins are so thin, but the spoils are so great.

More notes from Tuesday afternoon’s matches.

• All I want on Wednesday is for Matthew Wolff to hit a 335-yard 3-wood and for us to get a Nick Saban “is this what we want golf to be?” quote after seeing that swing. Not too much to ask, right?

• Speaking of Wolff’s swing. My buddy Sean Martin broke it down for me in the media center (with visuals!) and said he does a really good job leveraging the ground based on his takeaway. Also, I ran into Zach Robinson on the course (the golf one with the “h” in his name, not the football one without it), and he blamed Justin Thomas for everyone trying to jump into their swings these days. We guffawed about kids these days. Good times.

• Also, despite all the histrionics, his position coming down is actually pretty ideal. Look at it at the 16-second mark here.

• Welcome to the all-Matthew Wolff portion of this post! One last note on him. I watched him pull 3-wood on the 320-yard par-4 12th and measure one club length back from the tee as if he was trying to get the exact right yardage from 320 yards away. FEMA nearly needed to be called on account of the #TourSauce.

• Speaking of sauce, Eckroat walked in a par putt on 15 that definitely did not settle to the bottom of the cup before he had his hand around it bounding to the 16th tee. Karsten is sauce central this week, and I blame @NoLayingUp.

• Hovland is quickly and quietly becoming my favorite player on this team. His ceiling is lower than some of the other guys as a pro, but, as somebody told me on the course today, he just fairway-and-greens you to death. He’s the happy-go-lucky dude in the group who cannot stop flushing his irons. I’m fully subscribed.

• Oklahoma State has one senior starter and three underclassmen, including arguably their three best players of this tournament so far. Also, two of them are All-Americans. Insane.

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