It took three days, but UNLV finally figured out how to play the Sagamore Golf Club.
The Rebels tore up the par-72, 7,173-yard course Saturday, posting the best round of the day — 10-under-par 278 — to finish third in the NCAA men’s golf regional at Noblesville, Ind.
By placing in the top five, UNLV advanced to the NCAA championships from May 29 to June 3 in Bradenton, Fla.
Illinois and Southern Methodist finished tied for first at 4-under 860 for the three-day, 54-hole event, three strokes ahead of UNLV.
“It was a big round top to bottom,” UNLV coach Dwaine Knight said. “We were good from start to finish.”
Paced by seniors Nicolas Maruri and Kurt Kitayama, UNLV played its best golf when it counted most. The Rebels began the day in fifth place but surged into third after Maruri posted a 5-under 67 and Kitayama a 68. Both made eagle at the par-5 No. 14.
“We have four guys who played in the Elite Eight a couple of years ago, and they talked about that and wanting to get back to the nationals,” Knight said. “Nico was outstanding. And Kitty has been one of our leaders all year, and to see the seniors step up and come through was great.”
Junior AJ McInerney also broke par, finishing with a 71. He made three straight birdies at Nos. 2 through 4 and overcame a bogey at No. 17 with a birdie at 18.
Senior Carl Jonson finished at 72, and freshman Shintaro Ban shot 73. His round did not count in the team’s score.
Unlike their first two rounds, which were marred by triple-bogeys, the Rebels managed to avoid such pitfalls Saturday. The played the four par-5 holes about as well as could be played, going bogey-free and playing the holes to 12 under, including the eagles at No. 14 from Kitayama and Maruri.
Fewer errors and scoring big on the long holes made all the difference.
“We hit really good shots and gave ourselves a chance (to score),” Knight said. “The guys made good decisions and executed well.”
That UNLV advanced without one of its best players showed its depth. Freshman John Oda, a starter all year and the Mountain West’s Freshman of the Year, missed the regional with a sprained right wrist. He was replaced by Maruri, who has performed well in NCAA play during his UNLV career.
But he outdid himself in Indiana. After shooting 81 in the first round, Maruri recovered to shoot 70 and then the 67 for a 2-over 218 total. He and Jonson tied for 16th individually.
Kitayama also had a strong week, finishing sixth at 3-under 213. Illinois’ Brian Campbell was the medalist at 206.
Knight said he wasn’t sure if Oda will return for the NCAA championships.
“We’ll have to see how his progress is,” he said. “But I’m so proud of what these guys did this week. That was a big performance.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.