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Luke Kluver subs back in, helps power Oklahoma back into NCAA contention

CARLSBAD, Calif. – Oklahoma head coach Ryan Hybl didn’t sleep well Saturday night. His Sooners had counted a pair of 78s on Friday and then an 81 from freshman PJ Maybank, who subbed in for senior Luke Kluver following Kluver’s opening 86. And with Oklahoma needing to make up five shots on Sunday just to make the 54-hole cut at this NCAA Championship, Hybl wrestled with the decision to keep rolling with Maybank or throw Kluver back in.

So, on Sunday morning, hours before the Sooners’ afternoon tee time, Hybl called Kluver for a one-on-one meeting. He asked him two, pointblank questions:

Are you reset mentally?

Can you go out there and shoot under par today?

“You can never guarantee a result,” Kluver said, “but I just told him I’d fight for the guys and play as hard as I could.”

Boy, did he ever. Kluver was 15 shots better on Sunday at Omni La Costa, firing a 1-under 71, one of three under-par rounds by Sooners (Ben Lorenz, 72, and Drew Goodman, 71, were the others). Oklahoma’s four counters shot 5 under (including a combined nine birdies from Lorenz and Goodman) on the front nine, their back side, to post a 2-under 286 that rocketed the Sooners up six spots on the leaderboard.

At 25 over, not only is Oklahoma playing Monday, but the Sooners are just five shots back of eighth-place Florida.

The top eight teams after 72 holes advance to match play, and all seven teams outside the current cut line enter Monday within seven shots. Three times since 2015 has a team made up seven or more shots in the final round; one of those squads was Oklahoma, which made up nine shots in 2016 to start a run of Hybl-coached teams making match play seven times in eight tries.

“We’re just getting started,” said Hybl, whose Sooners went from fifth to first after an 11-under final round two weeks ago at the NCAA Santa Fe Regional. “We haven’t done very well, done what I feel this group can do. But we’ve seen moments. We saw it in the final round of regionals. We saw it today. This is who we can be. These guys have got some guts. They’ve got some guts.”

That includes Kluver. The fifth-year senior played just three events for Oklahoma last season after transferring in from Kansas. He had his moments earlier this season, opening the fall with back-to-back top-6 finishes, gong 4-0 at the Big 12 Match Play and then capping last semester with a win at the Ka’anapali Classic in Hawaii. The spring, however, yielded just a pair of top-25s, and Kluver didn’t make the starting five for conference.

But after Lorenz shot 12 over in 54 holes, Hybl called Kluver in from the bullpen, and Kluver counted with a solid 1-over 73.

“I actually went through a lot that week,” said Kluver, who declined to reveal specifics, “and I was able to share with coach, and I think that kind of opened his eyes a little bit, that maybe I’m a lot tougher than I show at times.”

On the bench Saturday at La Costa, Kluver didn’t sit; he erased the 86 from his memory, followed his teammates and took mental notes on every hole. His new gameplan would be find the middle of greens and lean on his lag-putting.

“Mentally, maybe it’s hard to bounce back from an 86,” Kluver said. “There’s nowhere to hide out there. … But I didn’t have many stressful par putts today.”

Hybl figures to have an easier sleep Sunday night, but Monday will still be a dogfight.

“I believe in our guys and trust that they can go get the job done,” Hybl said. “Tomorrow it’s going to require everybody. But also, there is going to have to be someone that is going to have to rise to the occasion.”

Like Kluver just did.