In college golf, it takes only a couple of holes for a team to play itself in or out of contention.
That was the case Sunday at Southern Highlands, where UNLV finished its front nine and began its back nine strong while UCLA disintegrated on the back side midway through the final round of the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters. The Rebels, who had maintained contact with first- and second-round leader California, caught the Golden Bears at No. 12, and with Blake Biddle making shots and draining putts, UNLV passed Cal to win by one shot.
UNLV had a three-day total of 8-over-par 872, followed by Cal’s 873. UCLA was third, 10 shots back at 882, in the 15-team event.
The victory was the second in three years for the Rebels and first outright since 2009. UNLV has won its home tournament in seven of the past eight years.
“We knew it was going to be difficult,” coach Dwaine Knight said, noting his team entered Sunday’s final round trailing Cal by five shots. “But I also believed we were going to play well, even though the course got more difficult as the day went on.
“We’ve got a team of real fighters. They keep coming back.”
Biddle, who took medalist honors with a three-day total of 212, two shots ahead of UCLA’s Pontus Widegren, said the team victory makes his winning his first tournament extra special.
“Our team is legitimate,” said Biddle, a sophomore from St. Charles, Ill. “We’ve had a good run this year, and there’s not many victories better than this one.”
Biddle was supported by junior Kevin Penner’s 219, freshman Kurt Kitayama’s 221 and senior Derek Ernst’s 226.
“It was a great team win,” Knight said. “When one guy struggled, another stepped up.”
Cal had played steadily throughout the 54-hole event. But with the winds picking up early in the final round, the course became more challenging and club selection more of a guessing game. The Bears, led by Max Homa’s 216, couldn’t get anyone hot enough down the stretch.
It came down to the final group playing the final hole. Biddle didn’t know that UNLV was up two shots. He got to the green in four after driving the left rough. He two-putted for bogey, the second putt coming from 5 feet.
“I knew putting was going to be the key this week, so I really worked on it in practice,” Biddle said. “I felt comfortable on the greens. But the key was I hit a lot of greens.”
That allowed Biddle to make birdie on five of the seven holes on his back nine and give him a cushion after he made bogey at the par-3 17th and at No. 18.
While UNLV and Cal played tag in the final 10 holes, UCLA suffered the greatest indignity. The Bruins had battled for a share of the lead with the Rebels and Cal at 10 over as they prepared to play holes 13 through 15. But a run of bad luck and a string of bogeys and double bogeys quickly dropped UCLA out of contention at 16 over.
Exemplifying UCLA’s woes was a bizarre occurrence at the 592-yard, par-5 No. 9, where Patrick Cantlay, the Bruins’ best golfer and one of the nation’s best, hit his second shot over the green, bouncing off two cart paths and coming to rest 74 yards beyond the green. When Cantlay attempted to knock it back toward the hole, his shot bounced into the water. He eventually took a double-bogey 7 for the hole.
With UNLV making the fewest mistakes and Biddle wielding a hot putter, the host team was the one left standing at the end.
“We’ve got to keep it up,” Knight said. “We’ve got very high goals for this program, and while this is a great win, we’ve got a lot of golf still to play this season.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.