Another Big Ten comeback for men’s golf

Minnesota shot a seven-under-par 277 on Sunday to claim its second-straight Big Ten championship.

Brett Angel

Minnesota’s men’s golf team entered Sunday’s final round at the 2003 Big Ten championships trailing tournament leader Illinois by six strokes. But the Gophers couldn’t have felt better about their chances to win, even if they had been in the lead.

Facing the exact same deficit as it did at last year’s conference tournament after three rounds, Minnesota shot a sizzling seven-under-par 277 to deny Illinois for the second-straight year and secure the first back-to-back Big Ten titles in school history.

“(The similarities to last year) were something we talked about on Saturday,” assistant coach Andrew Tank said. “We played well the first three days and were happy with our position.”

Tank adopted the head coaching duties for the weekend while head coach Brad James stayed in Minnesota for the birth of his first child. James and his wife, Tanya, welcomed daughter Sydney into the world Sunday morning – the same day her father was named the Big Ten coach of the year.

Minnesota senior Matt Anderson shot a four-under 67 on Sunday and won the individual title by one shot after knocking in a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th green. Anderson, who finished at eight-under-par for the weekend, is the first Gopher to earn medalist honors since John Harris in 1974.

“We were all pretty confident,” Anderson said. “We’d been there before.”

Minnesota’s Simon Nash (-7) also fired a final round 67 – his third round of the weekend in the 60s – and finished tied for second place with Northwestern’s Tom Johnson and Big Ten Player of the Year James Lepp from Illinois.

Gophers’ junior Justin Smith also cracked the top five, finishing at five-under. Anderson, Nash and Smith were all named to the all-tournament team. David Morgan tied for 21st (+9) and Will Schauman tied for 32nd (+13) to round out Minnesota’s scoring.

Illinois shot an eight-under-par 276 in Saturday’s third round to give itself a six-shot lead but staggered to a 289 (+5) on Sunday and finished six shots behind Minnesota. The Illini finished four strokes back last year.

The Gophers improved their score each day – carding rounds of 283 (-1), 282 (-2) and 280 (-4) before Sunday’s 277. Minnesota was the only team to shoot under par in all four rounds.

It was also the first team title of the spring season for the Gophers, who will not play again until the NCAA Regional on May 15.

Brett Angel covers golf and welcomes comments at [email protected]