May 29, 2016
by Rob Moseley
Photo: Andy McNamara
EUGENE, Ore. — Aaron Wise is gunning for a national championship, and he’s bringing Oregon men’s golf with him.
The Ducks’ sensational sophomore shot the best round of the tournament so far, a 6-under 64 on Sunday that put him in the individual lead by two strokes and the UO men safely within the 15-team cut line for Monday’s final round of stroke play.
Wise, the No. 6 amateur in the world, is outplaying a field that includes seven other top-10 players. At even-par entering Sunday, he finished the third round with a 6-under total of 204, two shots better than anyone else in the field as of Sunday afternoon, with several teams still on the Eugene Country Club course.
“Aaron’s special,” UO coach Casey Martin said. “We’ve said it a lot, but he proved it today, on a big stage.”
Wise’s low round allowed the Ducks to absorb off days by two players and remain in fifth among the 30 teams as of Sunday afternoon. Thomas Lim was even for the day and Zach Foushee shot 1-over 71, but Sulman Raza was 9 over and freshman Edwin Yi — the Ducks’ top scorer at 1 under through two rounds — went 10 over Sunday and didn’t count toward the team score for the day.
Oregon finished its round a collective 12-over 852, seven strokes behind first-place Vanderbilt. The top 15 teams play a final round of stroke play Monday, after which the individual medalist will be crowned; the top eight teams then advance to match play Tuesday.
“We’re where we need to be,” Martin said. “We could have been even better, obviously, but it is what it is. I think we’ll be ready, and the guys that struggled today will be ready to come back tomorrow.”
The gallery following Wise reflected the momentum he built over the course of the morning. Numbering 20 or 30 people on the front side, which Wise opened by birdieing three of the first four holes, the gallery was over 100 deep by the time Wise finished a stretch of four straight birdies at No. 16.
Oregon was 6 over for the day by the time its fifth player, Yi, made the turn. The Ducks were a collective 2 under on the back, with Lim and Foushee each going 1 under while Wise was 4 under, requiring just 10 putts on the nine holes.
Wise said it was actually a par save at No. 12 that kicked off his hot streak. He plugged his approach there into a greenside bunker, and his shot out of the sand left him with a downhill putt measuring at least 20 feet.
“That’s a crucial spot there,” said UO assistant Van Williams, who has walked with Wise since the final round of NCAA Regionals. “You’re at 2 under, two off the lead. It could have gone either way — and he drained it, right in the heart. It got him going, and four birdies later, here he is.”
Wise put his approach at No. 13 within 2 feet, and made the putt to get within a shot of the lead. He pumped his fist after rolling in birdie putts of 8 to 10 feet at Nos. 14 and 15, which gave him the lead by a stroke.
Then, at the par-3 16th, Wise’s tee shot rolled over the edge of the cup for a near ace. He tapped in a fourth straight birdie putt, and cemented himself as the favorite to win the tournament entering Monday’s final round.
“He’s been playing that well all weekend,” Williams said of Wise, who opened with two even-par rounds of 70. “Casey and I have been talking and I’ve said, ‘He’s close. He’s so close.’ It’s a matter of, in this game you keep chipping away and chipping away, and eventually they’ll fall.
On Sunday, they fell.
Wise said the 64 matched his low round at Eugene Country Club. But not by much — Foushee said that, in six rounds of qualifying for the Ducks’ first event of the spring, back in late January, Wise shot a combined 24 under.
“To do it out here, with the greens rolling 13 (on the Stimpmeter) and the rough up, is pretty special,” Wise said.
Like Wise, Lim had a couple par saves Sunday that were as memorable as any of his three birdies. Lim made sand saves on the par-3 14th and 16th, helping him shoot 1 under over his last seven holes.
At No. 14, Lim was in a bunker behind the green; the hole sat just at the top of a slope that ran all the way down into a pond at the front of the green. Lim’s only hope was to aim for a patch of rough between the trap and the green, slowing his ball enough that it stopped rolling short of the slope. He executed flawlessly, before making a similar save at No. 16.
“Those were huge for momentum, and that’s what I need to keep my round going,” said Lim, who is 5 over for the tournament to lead Oregon’s scorers behind Wise. “The first day I didn’t do that, and it resulted in a 5 over. Every stroke we can shave here and there is good for the team overall.”
Likewise, Foushee helped the Ducks’ cause with an eagle at the par-15 15th to finish 1 over. Foushee shot 71 for the second day in a row, though on Saturday that wasn’t enough to count toward Oregon’s team score. But on Sunday, with Raza and Yi faltering, Foushee’s 71 proved invaluable.
At No. 15, he found himself with about 240 yards left to the hole. A favorable lie encouraged Foushee to take a shot at reaching the par-5 in two shots, using a 2-iron.
“Our coaches were telling us it was wise to lay up if you had anything more than a 4-iron, but I felt good over it,” Foushee said. “I hit it really good, and it went within 15 feet.”
The rounds by Foushee and Lim were enough to support Wise and keep the Ducks in the hunt for a spot in Tuesday’s match-play quarterfinals. The Ducks will be back on the course Monday, looking to wrap up a spot in the top eight, while rooting their teammate Wise on in his quest for individual medalist honors.
“We’re used to seeing him do what he’s doing,” Foushee said. “I’m sure he’s feeding off the crowd, and loving it. It’s awesome.”