Illinois upsets Cal men's golf in NCAA semifinal thriller


Cal's five golfers in suburban Atlanta are all ranked in the top 25 according to Golfweek, while Illinois' top golfer is ranked 46th. But, as broadcaster Will Haskett said on the NCAA webcast, rankings mean nothing when you enter match play. The Golden Bears found that out the hard way Saturday, losing to Illinois in a 3-2 nailbiter in the match play semifinals at the NCAA men's golf championships after the decisive match between the last two NCAA individual medalists was decided on the 20th hole.

Cal fell behind in this one after Illini frosh Charlie Danielson bested Joël Stalter 3&2. Down four holes on 15, Stalter pitched in from the rough to extend the match an extra hole but had to sink a 50-footer on 16 to stretch it to 17. He nearly did, but ended up halving it with Danielson to give Illinois the early 1-0 edge.

The Golden Bears struck back quickly, though, thanks to Michael Weaver and Brandon Hagy. Down or even the whole match, Weaver was all square with freshman Thomas Detry headed to 18 and when he hit this this big approach shot:

Hagy's duel with Alex Burge was much less dramatic, as the junior won 4&3 after sinking a birdie putt on the par-3 15th. But Michael Kim has had his troubles in match play (he lost in the quarterfinals yesterday), and the nation's top-ranked golfer pushed a tee shot well wide of the fairway on 17 down a hole. The Del Mar, Calif., native couldn't recover from there, and Brian Campbell won 2&1 to square it up at a deuce apiece. Naturally, this thing would come down to a battle between the last two NCAA champions-- Cal's Max Homa and Illinois' Thomas Pieters.

The 2013 NCAA champ got out to the early lead, as Homa was up three holes upon the completion of the front nine, but the 2012 NCAA champ roared back by taking the next three holes and four of the next five to set things all square between the two. Pieters had a chance to win it with a short birdie putt on 18 (it was 2-1 Cal at the time) but had it lip out to send it back to No. 1 for extra golf. With no NCAA cameras on the front holes, the decider would go dark, leaving the Twitterverse to report the news:





A record-setting season for Cal comes up two match-play victories shy of the ultimate glory, while Illinois advances to the finals to take on Alabama.



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