MILTON, Ga. (AP) – California's Max Homa shot a 4-under 66 to win the individual title at the NCAA golf championship Thursday, and his steady play carried the Bears to the top seed heading into team match play.
The Bears' senior leader birdied three of the first five holes, surging past second-round leader Jon Rahm of Arizona State, and didn't make a bogey on the Capital City Club's Crabapple course north of Atlanta.
Homa won the title by three strokes over Rahm and five others. Cal teammate Brandon Hagy was in the mix until a double-bogey at the par-3 15th.
The nation's top-ranked team, the Bears lived up to their billing with a 16-under total. Host Georgia Tech was six strokes back as the top eight teams advanced to match play beginning Friday.
Rahm, a freshman, opened the tournament with a dazzling 61 but couldn't keep it going. After sinking 10 birdies on Tuesday, he managed only one in the final round of stroke play for a 71 that left him among the runner-ups behind Homa, who posted a 9-under 201 on the 7,319-yard course.
Homa began the day two strokes back. A brilliant lob wedge at No. 2 set up a 4-foot birdie putt, a booming 3-wood at the par-5 fourth set up a two-putt from 50 feet for birdie, and a nifty chip from behind the green at the short par-4 fifth left him with a 5-footer for his third birdie in the opening run.
But the key hole may have been the eighth, where Homa rolled in a 40-footer to save par. After that, he was in control.
Georgia Tech started out holding a one-stroke lead over the Bears, who entered the NCAAs as the overwhelming favorite after losing only two of 13 tournaments this season.
But Cal heads into match play in a familiar position – leading. Michael Weaver shot a 69 and the two other scoring players, Hagy and Michael Kim, both finished at 70 to leave their team 5 under for the day.
UNLV was the only school to post a lower score, putting up an 8-under total that pushed the Rebels into a four-team playoff for the final three spots in the team competition.
Defending national champion Texas and second-ranked Alabama tied for third, nine strokes behind Cal but easily good enough to advance. Illinois also moved on, another two shots back in fifth.
The last three spots were finally decided just before sundown. UNLV, Arizona State, New Mexico and Texas A&M finished 18 shots off the pace in a tie for sixth, forcing a playoff to eliminate one of them. The season ended for A&M when the Aggies made a couple of bogeys on the first round of extra holes.
The Friday quarterfinals will be Cal vs. Arizona State, Georgia Tech vs. UNLV, Alabama vs. New Mexico and Texas vs. Illinois. The winners advance to the semifinals the following day, with the championship match Sunday.
Defending individual champion Thomas Pieters of Illinois closed with a 71 and wound up six strokes behind Homa. There hasn't been a repeat NCAA men's champion since Phil Mickelson in 1989 and 1990.
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