But Woods was obviously frustrated during the first round of the NCAAs, finishing with a one-over-par 73 on the Alister MacKenzie-designed, 7,109-yard Scarlet Course at Ohio State. On his 12th hole (the 3rd on the course, Woods having started on the 10th tee) he duck-hooked a drive into some trees and, after a bad punch shot that came up short, slammed his club into the turf. Then, after dumping a 50-yard wedge into a greenside bunker, he smashed the wedge against his bag. The club broke, and Woods was given a warning by NCAA officials that lasted the rest of the tournament and meant a two-stroke penalty if he were "warned" again.
He steadied himself, finishing with rounds of 72-70-71 and tying for fifth in the individual standings, tops for a Stanford player. He was never more than eight shots behind the leaders, which included Spratlin, who made the 36-hole individual cut even though Auburn was among the 15 teams that failed to advance to the final two rounds.
Spratlin played a lot of golf growing up in Johnson City, Tenn. But he wasn't good enough to attract any college scholarship offers, so he tried to walk on his first year at Auburn. By the end of his sophomore year he was on a partial scholarship. He has the Tigers' most diligent practice regimen. But what credentials did he have to go with the NCAA title, which has been won by players like Nicklaus, Crenshaw and Strange? "Last fall I won the championship at a club in Virginia," a dazed Spratlin said late Saturday. "Oh, and I also won the club championship at Telico Village at home in Knoxville a couple years ago."
Over the last few holes Saturday, Spratlin looked like a country-club duffer. After 14 holes he was eight under par with a four-shot lead over two players. "I was pretty cool and not too nervous all week," said Spratlin, "but it's amazing how quick your swing gets under the gun on the last few holes." He double-bogeyed 15, bogeyed 17 and came to the last hole with only a one-shot edge over Ted Purdy of Arizona and Chris Tidland of Oklahoma State. At the 414-yard par-4 18th, a dogleg left, Spratlin hit two good shots and then, after taking several deep breaths, two-putted from 15 feet for his first collegiate victory.
Woods came close to a fairy-tale ending himself. Seniors Begay and Martin had just missed putts of three and five feet that would have clinched the championship when Woods arrived at the 18th green one under for the day and two under for the tournament. He had a 25-foot putt for a birdie that would have given Stanford the title. The few hundred spectators around the green fell silent. Woods lined up the putt, stood over the ball for about a minute and then hit what seemed another clutch winning putt, like the one he nailed against Trip Kuehne at the 35th hole in the U.S. Amateur final last summer. But the ball skimmed the cup's right edge and stayed out. Par. Tie for fifth for Woods. Playoff for the Cardinal.
Unlike Stanford, which blew three winning birdie chances, Oklahoma State got to the playoff in much better form. Senior Alan Bratton, who shared 1994 NCAA Player of the Year honors with Justin Leonard of Texas, birdied his last three holes, while Kuehne birdied the 18th, to help the Cowboys overcome the last half of what had been an eight-shot deficit to the Cardinal on the front nine. Oklahoma State and Stanford ended regulation tied at four-over-par 1,156, one stroke ahead of third-place Texas.
The playoff format called for each team to send its five players out for one hole—it would be the 18th—of sudden death, with the best four scores counting. Here, the Cowboys were at a disadvantage because they had only four men who could play. Sophomore Leif Westerberg had hurriedly left after finishing the fourth round to fly to England for the British Amateur, which was scheduled to begin on Monday in Hoylake. "We had made the travel plans in early April," said Mike Holder, the Oklahoma State coach, "so I had no regrets about being in that position."
Nor should he have. His players were prepared to handle the situation, what with a training schedule that includes thrice-weekly 6 a.m. aerobics classes, frequent bad-weather practice sessions and mandatory class attendance. That last requirement yielded three Academic All-Americas this year, led by Kuehne, who graduated with a 3.87 average in psychology and was named the top senior male student at Oklahoma State, the first athlete to be so honored. Kuehne has one more year of golf eligibility, which he will use next season while working toward an M.B.A.
In the playoff Stanford made four pars and a bogey, which wasn't counted, while Oklahoma State had two pars and two birdies. Kris Cox, a junior, nailed a 10-footer for the first birdie, and then Bratton canned a 35-footer for the second. "This is all a tribute to the way Coach handles us," said Kuehne. "Lots of people say he runs a boot camp. But we love it, and we're great friends. What he makes us do allowed us to conquer all the odds."
It also kept a few streaks alive. Holder-coached Cowboy teams had won six previous NCAA championships, including the last two, in 1980 and '87, held at the Scarlet Course. And more important to the players, every golfer who has played four years under Holder since he started coaching at Oklahoma State in '73 has left Stillwater with at least one NCAA crown. "We desperately wanted to get Alan Bratton and Chris Tidland their titles," said Cox.