GREENSBORO, N.C. — Liberty withstood a fierce charge from Florida, fending off the Gators with four birdies on No. 18 to capture the team title at the Greensboro Regional on Saturday afternoon on the East Course at the Grandover Resort.
With the victory, Liberty along with Florida, Auburn, Lamar and Tulsa will be making a West Coast trip in 10 days.
The top five teams at each of the six NCAA Regionals sites around the country earned the right to compete at the 2012 NCAA Championship, May 29 – June 3, at the Riviera Country Club in in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
For the Flames, it marked their third consecutive team victory and the team’s ninth round in a row where it finished as the clubhouse leader. In April, Liberty won the River Landing Intercollegiate on April 6-7 before capturing its second consecutive Big South Championship at The Patriot Golf Club on April 16-18.
Liberty finished atop the 14-team leaderboard with a four-over par 868 (283-293-292), three shots clear of Florida, who finished second with a seven-over par 871 (299-287-285).
Auburn took third place with a 10-over par 874 (296-292-286), followed by Lamar’s 13-over par 877 (295-293-289) and Tulsa’s 14-over par 878 (293-297-288).
The odd team out of the nationals mix was local favorite Duke, with the Blue Devils finishing in sixth place with a 17-over par 881 (301-291-289).
SMU had one of the most dramatic falls of the day down the leaderboard. The Mustangs came into the day in second place, six strokes behind Liberty, but carded a 13-over par 301 on Saturday to fall to seventh place with a 19-over par 883 (288-294-301).
Liberty becomes the first Big South men’s golf team to win an NCAA Regional event and the fourth to advance to the NCAA Championship. Coastal Carolina has made three trips to the national championship event (2005, 2006 and 2007), spotlighted by its fifth-place finish in 2006.
Liberty’s Robert Karlsson finished the 54-hole event in a three-way tie for first place with SMU’s Matt Schovee and Campbell’s Viata Guillaume.
Schovee and Guillaume went on to play a playoff to determine who would advance to the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championship as an individual.
The top scoring individual not on one of the five teams heading to nationals qualified as an individual. Karlsson did not compete in the playoff, as he had already secured his tee time at Riviera by leading Liberty to the regional team title.
Guillaume went on to defeat Schovee on the first playoff hole. Guillaume parred the long par 4 No. 10 hole, while Schovee would post bogey. Schovee was the 36-hole individual leader on the day, but closed the championship with a four-over par 76 on the final day to allow Guillaume and Karlsson back into the individual title mix.
Karlsson finished in a three-way tie with Guillaume and Schovee, posting a three-under par 213 (70-69-74), marking his first career sub-par NCAA Regional finish in four regional showings.
Chase Marinell shared seventh place with an one-over par 217 (70-74-73), while Niklas Lindstrom finished tied for 13th place with a three-over par 219 (72-74-73).
Mathieu Fenasse finished tied for 39th place with a 10-over par 226 (71-78-77) and Ian McConnell continued to improve and posted Liberty’s lowest final round to climb to a share of 44th place with an 11-over par 227 (79-76-72).
For the third consecutive day, the front nine continued to be more difficult for Karlsson than the back. The senior came into the day one-under on the front nine and four-under on the final nine holes and without a bogey on the back side.
Karlsson dropped a shot early, as the senior was unable to get up and down from the left side of the green at No. 1, carding his first of three front side bogeys.
Five consecutive pars were highlighted by a strong recovery on the par 5 No. 6 hole. The two-time Big South Golfer of the Year lost a ball right off the tee, but still managed to make par after a solid second drive and a hybrid to within eight feet.
Another errant tee shot on the downhill par 3 No. 7 hole cost Karlsson his second stroke. His iron found the left bunker, and he was unable to get close after his ball found the downslope of the sand.
Karlsson tried to scramble and close with par on the uphill par 4 No. 9 hole, but a drive left and an approach short and right forced the senior to make the turn at three-over par on the day.
Another solid hybrid shot on No. 10 seemed to calm Karlsson down, as the shot to within 12 feet, which he would two putt for par, began a string of eight pars in a row.
The only time the run of pars was in jeopardy was on the short par 3 No. 12 hole, a hole Karlsson had birdied the previous two days.
However, the back pin placement on the three-tiered green gave him some challenges. After being long and left, Karlsson made an aggressive run at holing out. His chip up caught the edge of the cup, which slowed the pace of the ball down just enough to remain on the top tier of the green and allowed him to sink the six foot comeback putt for par.
Coming to the home hole, a 570-yard par 5, live scoring had the Flames up by one shot over the Gators, encouraging Karlsson to give the No. 18 green a shot in two to help the team’s chances at the team title.
Once again, he found the sweet spot of his hybrid, clearing the water that jutted out in front of the hole and he ran his approach through the two-tiered green. The senior completed his first under par hole of the day after his chip up ran down the slope to within four feet of the hole.
On the day, Karlsson finished by hitting 6-of-14 fairways and 9-of-18 greens in regulation to go along with 29 total putts.
Karlsson dramatic birdie on No. 18 completed a run of four consecutive under par scores for the Flames on the last hole to seal the team victory. Joining Karlsson in making an under par on the home hole were Marinell, Lindstrom and McConnell.
After following Karlsson with a bogey on No. 1, Marinell was able to grind out a one-over par 73 on the day. The sophomore quickly regained the stroke with a birdie on the par 5 No. 2, but gave it back with over par scores on No. 5 and 10, both par fours. He carded seven pars in a row before closing with a birdie on No. 18.
McConnell was Liberty’s low golfer on the day, saving his best round of the championship event for Saturday. He opened with a birdie on No. 1, snaking in a 35-foot putt to jumpstart his round.
He sandwiched birdies on No. 4 and 6 with a bogey on No. 5 to make the turn at two-under par. His score remained the same until he bogeyed holes No. 12, 13 and 15 to go back to one-over par on the day. His birdie on No. 18 began Liberty’s closing run.
Lindstrom opened his day with a pair of pars before dropping shots at No. 3 and 4. He got one back with a birdie on No. 6, but followed with a bogey on No. 7 to make the turn at two-over par on the day.
He birdied No. 11 and posted a bogey on No. 14 before closing his day with a birdie on No. 18, a hole he played at three-under par during the regional event.
Much like the rest of his teammates, Fenasse struggled out of the gates, posting bogeys on No. 1 and 3. After carding seven pars in a row, the freshman cut his deficit in half with a birdie on No. 11. However, during his closing six holes, he carded three bogeys, a double bogey and a birdie to finish at five-over par for the day.