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Unless you're a parent or friend of a participating player, a coach of a competing team or sports information director or alumnus of a school for which victory hangs in the balance, it's hard to get excited about watching college golf. What's more, keeping score is more confusing than calculus. To determine how a school is doing, you need to know the status of each player on the five-person team so you can then determine the lowest four scores that will eventually count toward the squad's daily aggregate. Try doing this for 30 teams, and you'll probably be as mixed-up—and wrong—as the volunteers who were operating the scoreboards at last week's NCAA championships, in Columbus, Ohio. About the only time the scoreboard was right was on Saturday evening, when it showed that Oklahoma State and Stanford had finished regulation play in a tie.
So, for the first time in the tournament's 98-year history, the team competition went to sudden death. By then the individual title also had been decided in a most unexpected fashion, with Chip Spratlin, a fifth-year senior at Auburn, making the NCAAs his first collegiate win—indeed, his first victory in anything bigger than a club championship.
But the drama that unfolded in the fourth and final round on Saturday was focused on No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State and No. 2 Stanford, the defending champion, which was led by its freshman sensation, Tiger Woods.
There was nothing surprising about the fact that Oklahoma State and Stanford ended up in the playoff. They were well stocked with All-Americas returning from last year's formidable squads, and they had proved their mettle in the regular season by winning eight and five tournaments, respectively, and by flip-flopping between No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls. Except for the Cowboys, though, everybody figured that Stanford would end up on top because it had Woods in its lineup.
Woods, who became the youngest person to win the U. S. Amateur championship a month before starting college, was the linchpin for the Cardinal all season, even though Stanford had four of five letter-men back from 1994. His 71.35 stroke average led the Cardinal, and he won two tournaments and had six other top-10 finishes. But his presence also had some negative effects. Stanford's performance was hampered to an extent by the hassles that came with all the attention Woods got. "Being in the spotlight as we are every day has put a lot of pressure on us," Casey Martin, a Cardinal senior, said last week. "It's been a great experience, having Tiger, but it's also been tough and has probably hurt our performance somewhat."
Perhaps the person most affected by the Woods hoopla was Wally Goodwin, the Stanford coach. Before Woods arrived in Palo Alto, Goodwin was as hale and happy as any 67-year-old in the world. Nine months later, at 68, he looks like a soldier back from a battle. The wrinkles beneath his eyes are deeper and more numerous. And the man who used to be as friendly as Big Bird now shows something of a temper. Last week he snapped at a reporter seeking an interview with Cardinal player Notah Begay.
"Coach, just two minutes with him, please?" the reporter asked.
"Just two minutes," Goodwin repeated. "Everybody wants two minutes. And two minutes times 10 is 20 minutes.
"At one point this year, I was averaging 51 requests a day," said Goodwin. "And those were only the calls on my personal office line. It all got very old. But, thankfully, it couldn't have been for a better person."
In the end, though, not even Woods could bail out Stanford. He arrived in Columbus worn out after a jam-packed year in which he'd been mugged on campus, suffered a sprained right rotator cuff and played in 12 college tournaments, not to mention the Masters and the World Team Amateur in Versailles, France. Add to this the pressures of freshman year for a regular student. Overall, Woods handled the challenges well, maintaining a 3.0 academic average and recently pledging Sigma Chi, the same fraternity that Begay is in.