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Published: Saturday, 5/30/2009

Texas A&M, Arkansas ready to duel at the NCAA men's golf championships

Texas A&M's Andrea Pavan chips onto the 2nd hole. The Aggies play Arkansas Saturday. Texas A&M's Andrea Pavan chips onto the 2nd hole. The Aggies play Arkansas Saturday.

A first-time national champion will emerge from Inverness Club Saturday.

Arkansas and Texas A&M, the final two teams left at the NCAA men's golf championships, have never finished better than fourth place in their teams' history.

Each team won two matches Friday to advance to the final, which begins at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Arkansas, seeded fourth in match play, defeated Washington and Georgia. Texas A&M, seeded seventh, beat Arizona State and Michigan.

"Anything can happen in match play, and we just caught fire the last couple of days," Arkansas coach Brad McMakin said. "Hopefully it can continue [today]."

The day began and ended with drama, the flavor the NCAA committee was hoping for when it switched the format before the season to make match play decide the champion.

In the first quarterfinal match, No. 1 Oklahoma State went down on the last hole to Georgia. The Cowboys dominated stroke play but had to essentially start over with the new format.

In the deciding match, Georgia's Brian Harman birdied the final three holes to defeat Oklahoma State's Rickie Fowler. When Fowler met with the media a few minutes later after missing a putt that would have tied the match, he had red eyes and was fighting back tears.

"Being the last man to come to 18, with everything on that putt, in a way it feels like I've let them down," Fowler said.

In the second semifinal match to conclude the day, Michigan stretched the Aggies to the brink before Texas A&M clinched in the fourth match on the 18th hole.

"Michigan was unbelievable, and they wouldn't go away," Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins said. "We had a chance to close them out several times, and they kept fighting and fighting."

Senior Matt Van Zandt secured the championship berth for the Aggies by defeating Michigan's Bill Rankin one-up. It was sweet redemption for Van Zandt, whose scores hadn't counted in the three rounds of stroke play and had lost his morning match.

"This is a team sport, I don't care what anybody says," Van Zandt said. "They say it's individual, and it is, but you've got to add them all up. I didn't even think about it. I knew this was my chance to make it up and play well. I just can't believe we're here."

Texas A&M's first match, as well as both of Arkansas' matches, featured slightly less excitement. The Aggies defeated Arizona State 3-1-1 in the quarterfinal, with top player Bronson Burgoon topping Knut Borsheim 5 and 4.

The Razorbacks, with a veteran team featuring two juniors and two seniors, were solid across the board. Arkansas defeated Washington 3-2, with two matches ending on the 16th hole and one on the 17th. It was more of the same against Georgia, with just one match needing all 18 holes to be decided.

No. 4 player Jason Cuthbertson and No. 5 player Jamie Marshall each won two matches yesterday for Arkansas, ranked 10th by Golfweek.

"They've gotten us out of the box hot and kept their composure and done a great job," McMakin said.

The Razorbacks have finished second in five consecutive tournaments dating back to mid-March. For obvious reasons they are hoping that streak ends today.

"We're fired up," Arkansas junior David Lingmerth said. "We just took it shot for shot. Everyone stepped up, and I'm happy."

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