Rebels rule starry field

Seung-su Han’s fist pumps spoke volumes Sunday.

The UNLV junior followed a beautiful approach shot on the 18th hole at Southern Highlands with a tap-in birdie and began to celebrate a big win by the nation’s 22nd-ranked team.

The Rebels beat six of the top seven ranked men’s teams to win the Southern Highlands Collegiate Tournament.

Han’s birdie, part of a closing stretch that included two pars, allowed the Rebels to finish at 5 over par in the 54-hole event. Third-ranked Charlotte finished at 7 over, one stroke better than No. 1 Georgia.

“This is our home tournament. This was big, a big win,” Han said. “We’re just going to build off of this.”

The Rebels began the day at even-par through 36 holes, two strokes behind Georgia and two ahead of Charlotte.

Buoyed by sophomore Brett Kanda and freshman Ji Moon, the Rebels’ No. 4 and 5 players, UNLV was 4 under on its front nine and led Georgia by one stroke and Charlotte by 10 at the turn.

The Rebels expanded their lead to seven strokes over Georgia and were 4 under through 13 holes before they began losing steam.

“I knew we were playing well, but I didn’t know we had that much of a lead,” coach Dwaine Knight said.

In the final five holes, the leaderboard turned into a roller coaster, with each of the top three squads owning first place at one point.

Charlotte had a one-stroke lead over the Rebels with two holes to play, but struggled on the 17th, giving UNLV a two-stroke lead with only Han’s group — which included Charlotte’s Jonas Enander Hedin and Georgia’s Hudson Swafford — to play the 18th.

Hedin placed a near-perfect wedge within four feet of the hole, leaving the Charlotte senior with an easy birdie attempt and appearing to put a little pressure on Han, whose second shot landed in the rough approximately 75 yards from the pin.

Han chased a low shot onto the green, using the back slope of the green to pull the ball within three feet. All that was left was the tap in and the fist pumps.

“I was just trying to hit my shot,” Han said. “I wasn’t really paying attention to what (Hedin) did.”

Han, who was 4 over on the first six holes of his back nine, finished par-par-birdie.

“That was huge,” Knight said. “A motto of ours is ‘The last three holes belong to the Rebs.’ Even if you’re playing poorly, just keep trying to finish.”

UNLV’s Moon, who struggled in the first two rounds with scores of 81 and 76, was one of three golfers to card the day’s best round, a 2-under-par 70. Kanda shot 71.

“I putted really well,” Moon said. “I wasn’t swinging well the last two days. I just wanted to find my go-to shot. I played really well.”

Han and sophomore Eddie Olson each shot 76.

The Rebels opened the 2008 portion of their schedule with a second-place finish at Tucson, Ariz., and a third-place showing at Wahiawa, Hawaii before beating many of the top programs this weekend.

In addition to Georgia and Charlotte, UNLV overcame No. 4 Oklahoma State, No. 5 UCLA, No. 6 Georgia Tech, No. 7 USC and No. 10 Florida.

USC’s Rory Hie won a playoff against Hedin and Swafford to take the individual title after finishing at 3 under par.

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