TUCSON, Ariz. – Playing the 18th hole in 6-under par among its counting scores, California held off a hard-charging host Arizona team Tuesday and went wire-to-wire to win the Arizona Intercollegiate at Arizona National Golf Club.
The Bears, with a closing 4-under 280, finished at 29-under 823, one shot better than the Wildcats, who had the day’s best score at 10-under 274.
It was a two-team race all the way as Fresno State finished a distant third at 14-under 838. Florida, No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, was another shot back in fourth. Defending NCAA champion and sixth-ranked Texas A&M rounded out the top 5 in the 14-team field at 11-under 841.
With five birdies in his first seven holes, Arizona senior Rich Saferian shot 5-under 66 and captured his first NCAA Division I title at 13-under 200. Saferian, a transfer from Scottsdale Community College, won the 2007 National Junior College Athletic Association Championship and leading his team to victory.
Michael Weaver of California and Bhavik Pate of Fresno State finished at 203, while Jordan Russell, competing as an individual for Texas A&M, followed at 205.
Arizona’s Tarquin MacManus and California’s Eric Mina finished at 206.
“It was an incredible roller coaster ride,” said Cal coach Stave Desimone. “We struggled a little starting out and Arizona came out on fire. Heck, at one point I thought they might shoot 30 under (for the day). But we stayed even keel and didn’t panic and were able to get back on track the last few holes, especially at the 18th.”
Entering the final round the Bears were in total control, standing at 25 under and leading Arizona by seven shots. But the Wildcats, trying to win their own tournament for the first time since they captured back-to-back titles in 2003-04, were not about to give in easily.
Arizona was 11 under through its first eight holes and Cal was 1 over, giving the Wildcats a five-shot lead. With the two teams on Nos. 12-15, Arizona was 8 under on the day and 26 under for the tournament, while the Bears were 6 over and at 19 under overall.
But Cal kept on plugging away and finally claimed the nail-biting victory. The Bears played Nos. 16-18 in 8 under, while Arizona was just 2- under in that stretch, including going 2 over on the par-3 17th.
It came down to the final two groups at the 513-yard par-5 18th, a hole easily reachable in two shots. With Arizona clinging to a precious one-shot lead, Mina answered MacManus’ birdie with an eagle.
In the final group, Saferian hit his second shot to within 12 feet of the hole, while Weaver barely cleared the water, his ball coming to rest left of the green and under a tree.
With an awkward stance and restricted swing, Weaver pitched to within 3 feet. Saferian then three-putted – his birdie try from 2 feet hitting the hole and spinning out – and Weaver, a freshman, sank his putt for what proved to be the clincher for the Bears.
It was California’s third win in five starts this season after two victories in the fall. It was the Bears’ first triumph in this event, where their best previous showing was a second in 2002.
“This was a tremendous team effort and I’m just really proud of our kids,” said Desimone, who guided the Bears to the NCAA title in 2004. “To start the spring with a win and doing it against some very good teams (six ranked in the top 50) shows we have the talent and ability to really do something this season.
“We don’t have any seniors on our roster, but I’ve sensed all along this team has a chance to be very, very good,” Desimone said. “If you have a great team you have to show some firepower and I feel we showed that these last two days, especially coming down the stretch when everything was on the line.”
For Saferian, it was a bit of a bittersweet victory.
“It’s a little tough right now,” he said. “I want to be happy, but more important than me, I would rather have had the team win.”
Still, the Arizona senior felt a lot of positive things would come out of this tournament for both he and the Wildcats.
“Even though we didn’t win, I think it was a good start to the spring,” Saferian said. “We showed we can go low. As for me, I knew I had to play well and I stepped up and did it. I really would have liked to birdie 18, but that just didn’t happen. Still, it sure feels good to finally win again.”