Cal completes comeback to capture Tavistock title

Todd Drexler/SE Sports Media

Cal completes comeback to capture Tavistock title

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Cal completes comeback to capture Tavistock title

Final scores

WINDERMERE, Fla. – Two years ago, California held the 36-hole lead at the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational only to shoot 21 over in the final round, surrender a nine-shot lead to Illinois and finish 13 shots back of the winning Illini.

“We didn’t play well, but they caught us,” Cal coach Walter Chun said.

On Tuesday, the roles were reversed. The Golden Bears trailed Illinois by nine shots entering the final round at Isleworth Golf and Country Club, and late in the afternoon it looked as if Illini would win comfortably. But Cal turned in a closing 4-under 284 and the Illini struggled to a 6-over final round.

When the final putt dropped, Cal found itself at 6 under, a shot ahead of Illinois and Florida, the defending tournament champions. It was the Bears’ second straight win but arguably biggest under Chun, now in his second year as head coach.

“If we just kept playing solid golf, you just never know what’s going to happen on this course,” Chun said. “… It can turn just like that.”

And it did. Illinois had three players double-bogey the par-5 17th hole, including individual medalist Dylan Meyer. The late struggles gave Cal and Florida life.

Two years ago, Cal junior Collin Morikawa shot a closing 79 at Isleworth to go from leading to six back of winner Jon Rahm of Arizona State. On Tuesday, Morikawa birdied the 17th hole from 18 feet to pull Cal ahead.

Initially, though, the birdie was thought to have tied Cal with Illinois and Florida at 5 under. (Florida junior Gordon Neale also birdied the 17th hole to pull the Gators into a share of the lead.)

But shortly after the players hit their tee shots at the par-4 18th, Golfstat corrected a live-scoring error. Cal’s Kaiwen Liu made par on 18, but the website showed a bogey. The fix gave the Bears some breathing room. Morikawa needed to only make par, and Meyer and Neale needed to get aggressive.

“After seeing that I checked in with the guys in the scoring tent and told them to please change because I didn’t want coach to see it and ask Collin to risk something that wasn’t necessary,” Liu said.

Said Neale: “I absolutely knew on the second shot and I had Collin in my group so a birdie was going to be what was required.”

Cal’s Collin Morikawa finished second at Isleworth to help the Bears to the team title. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Meyer and Neale gave themselves looks at birdie; Neale had the best look after hitting a great 7-iron from 190 yards to about 15 feet. After Meyer missed and Morikawa snuggled a birdie putt to close range, Neale gave his birdie putt a good roll, but the ball missed just left. Morikawa then tapped home par to seal the win, as well as a runner-up individual finish for himself.

“I’ve been in tournaments where we won by a shot or lost by a shot, but never with all three teams within one shot on the last green,” Neale said. “That was really fun. I’m pretty upset that it’s over.”

Last week, former Cal head coach Steve Desimone told Golfweek that he guaranteed Cal would win again this season after capturing the Alister Mackenzie Invitational earlier this month.

“Winning the first one’s great and winning going away is great, but there’s a whole different level coming at some point,” Desimone said, “and I suspect some time soon.”

Desimone was right. Cal entered the Tavistock ranked 18th in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, but will surely rise after winning one of college golf’s best regular-season tournaments. The Bears are a legit national-title contender, too, behind Morikawa and junior K.K. Limbhasut, who redshirted last year along with junior Sebastian Crampton, who also figures to play a key role for the rest of the season. Liu is one of the nation’s top freshmen.

“I told them at the start of the season that they’re good enough to win any event,” Chun said.

Still, as he watched his team celebrate on the 18th green Tuesday, Chun couldn’t help but tear up.

“This is a big stage for us and this is a big win for these guys,” Chun said. “It’s hard not to get a little emotional. You work so hard, and you preach to these guys, ‘You can win. You can do it. You can do it.’ And to do it on this stage, all the way across the country, against great teams like Illinois and Florida, this one’s a sweet one that I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life.”

– Kevin Casey contributed to this report

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