LAS VEGAS – UNLV shot the best final-round team score, and Rebels sophomore Blake Biddle was the only player to break par and shoot in the 60s Sunday at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters.
What made it all the sweeter was the fact that their performances led to championships for both in an event considered to be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, of any regular-season college tournament.
UNLV, trailing California by six strokes at the start of the day, closed with a 5-over-par 293 to edge the Golden Bears, who shot 12-over 300, by a shot.
Biddle entered the final 18 holes five shots behind second-round leader Logan McCracken of Texas Tech. But with a solid showing over the grueling back nine, Biddle shot 3-under 69 for a two-stroke victory over UCLA’s Pontus Widegren and Texas A&M’s Tyler Dunlap.
McCracken never could get things going the last day. He made double bogey on his opening hole, No. 10, and it never really got much better, as he made six more bogeys and another double against three birdies en route to a 7-over 79 and a tie for fifth at 1-over 217.
UNLV came into the event No. 11 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, while Cal was No. 10. They were two of the 13 top-50 ranked teams in the 15-team field that featured four of the top five teams in the country.
Top-ranked Texas finished sixth, and No. 3 Alabama – coming off a dominating victory in Puerto Rico – struggled and tied for ninth.
It was UNLV’s fifth victory of the season and kept the Rebels’ hopes alive for equaling or bettering the school record of seven wins posted in 1997-98, a season that included an NCAA title.
“I knew it was going to be difficult today with the greens being so firm and fast and some really tough pin placements,” said UNLV coach Dwaine Knight. “I knew it was going to take a lot of patience. The guys did a great job, and I’m really proud of them.”
While some might have questioned some of UNLV’s victories, saying the competition wasn’t overly strong, they can’t have doubts about this one, not with the stellar field that showed up at Southern Highlands Golf Club.
“The way we look at it, all wins are important,” Knight said. “They’re all building blocks and each win gets us another block. But yes, this was a nice and special win for us, not only because of the field, but because we got it at home in front of so many of our fans. That really makes it sweet.”
Biddle’s first college title did not come easy. In fact, he wasn’t much in the picture on the front nine, where he shot even par with two birdies and two bogeys to remain at 1 under on the tournament.
At that point, Dunlap was 7 under and Wedegren was 6 under.
Then, playing the more demanding back nine, Biddle made his charge. He birdied Nos. 10, 12, 13, 14 and 16 to get to 6 under and close within a shot of Dunlap. It seemingly didn’t help Biddle’s cause when he made bogeys at 17 and 18, but they proved to be quite important.
Dunlap was on cruise control for most of the first 16 holes. He made eagle at No. 3 and birdied the ninth. He added birdies at 10, 13 and 16.
At that point, he was two up on Biddle and five clear of Windegren, who already had finished with a 74 for 214. But the last two holes became a nightmare for the freshman. Dulap made double bogey at 17, cutting his lead to one going to the par-5 18th.
His third shot from heavy rough over the green on the left was all downhill on the fast putting surface. The ball caught the down slope and kept going, leaving him an uphill comeback putt of some 120 feet. From there, he five-putted for a quadruple-bogey 9.
“While I feel great about winning, I also feel sorry for Ty,” Biddle said. “Both of us played great for 16 holes. I don’t know what it was, but our best ball through those holes had to be ridiculous.
“Right now, I’m just elated,” he said. “I don’t think there are many victories that are any better than this one, especially because of the field. To get my first college win and to get it here is very special for me.”
“Everyone pretty much says the back nine here is so much tougher than the front, but this week the back nine was my friend,” Biddle said. “I think I just get more focused on the back nine.”
And now he and the Rebels are focused on even more victories ahead.