Balicki: Tide’s rise only a matter of time
Even after the fall season, there was no doubt in my mind that Alabama would win a tournament – maybe a few of them. Coach Jay Seawell’s Crimson Tide have too much talent not to win.
That’s why Golfweek made Alabama its preseason No. 1 team.
But no victory came in the fall. The Tide placed fourth at Carpet Capital and Olympia Fields, tied for second at their own Jerry Pate, and closed with a sixth at Isleworth.
Still, I knew it would be just a matter of time before ’Bama made its way to the winner’s circle.
That time came Tuesday – and in the impressive fashion many had expected from this solid group of players.
Leading wire-to-wire against a 15-team field that included six top-25 teams, the Tide rolled to victory lane in the Puerto Rico Classic at the par-72 River Course at Westin Rio Mar Resort.
With rounds of 276-279-279, Alabama finished at 30-under 834, 18 shots clear of runner-up Clemson.
The team total is the fifth-lowest in school history, and the 30 under ranks third in relation to par.
All five Tide players finished in the top 20, led once again by freshman Justin Thomas, who claimed his second collegiate title to go along with his win at the Carpet Capital. Thomas, who earlier this month won the prestigious Jones Cup Amateur, closed with a 68 and his 10-under 206 was one shot better than Oklahoma State’s Talor Gooch and two lower than second-round leader James White of Georgia Tech.
“Justin is a winner, and to make the birdie that he did coming in on the difficult 17th hole showed that,” Seawell said. “He has proven to all of college golf that he is not only one of the best freshmen but one of the best players in the country.”
Thomas got plenty of help from his teammates.
Sophomore Bobby Wyatt tied for fourth at 5-under 211, and sophomore Trey Mullinax, making his first start of the season, and senior Hunter Hamrick tied for seventh at 213. Sophomore Cory Whitsett tied for 19th.
“This was a big win for us against a very strong field – a great way to start the spring,” Seawell said. “We had all five guys finish in the top 20, four in the top 10 and everyone shooting par or better. That is the formula for winning golf.
“When we get all five guys in the tournament like that, we are as good as anyone in the country,” he said.
Coach, you’re preaching to the choir, because that is something we all knew. It was simply a matter of time before it would be high tide in Tuscaloosa again.
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Texas, coming in off three consecutive wins to end the fall and a big victory earlier this month at the Amer Ari event in Hawaii, also played in Puerto Rico. However, the Longhorns, No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, missed freshman Jordan Spieth, who was in California playing on a sponsor exemption in at the Northern Trust Open. The PGA Tour event was held at Riviera Country Club, site of this year’s NCAA Championship.
Even if Spieth had been in the lineup, however, Texas wasn’t going to outshine Alabama’s performance. The Longhorns tied for sixth, 33 strokes behind the Tide. Texas finished at 3-over 867, only its first finish outside the top 5 this season and only its second tournament with an over-par score.
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There’s a team out West also making some noise – the Golden Bears from California. They won for the third time this season and successfully defended their title Feb. 17 at the John Burns Intercollegiate in Hawaii.
Coach Steve Desimone’s crew shot 17-under 847 to win by seven shots over UNLV and Duke. Victory No. 3 ties the school record for most regular-season wins, matching the total that has been reached each of the past two seasons.
Cal, which opened the spring with a second – by one shot –at the Arizona Intercollegiate, has not finished outside the top 5 in its six starts.
Max Homa led the Bears in Hawaii, shooting 7-under 209 and finishing second, one shot behind Duke’s Julian Suri. Joel Stalter tied for third, Brandon Hagy tied for 11th and Pace Johnson tied for 18th.
“Winning never gets old, but it hardly gets easier, either,” Desimone said after the victory. “This is a nice win against a good, solid field. The guys knew we were in a position to win (the last round), and it was ours to take. When things got tough, they just kept right on grinding, and as a coach, I can’t ask for anything more than what they did.”
Cal, ranked No. 10 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is part of what is shaping up to be a dogfight in the Pac-12 Conference. The Bears are one of six Pac-12 teams in the top 11, joining No. 3 USC, No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 Oregon, No. 8 Washington and No. 11 Stanford.