Cal wins Transamerica/WFG Western Intercollegiate

Cal after winning the 2013 Transamerica/WFG Western Intercollegiate.

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SANTA CRUZ, Calif. –– While everyone else was glued to Masters coverage Sunday afternoon in the Pasatiempo clubhouse, Steve Desimone was still fighting off jet lag. The veteran Cal coach had left assistant coach Walter Chun in charge of the team early in the week as Desimone headed to Augusta, Ga., with redshirt junior Michael Weaver, runner-up at last year’s U.S. Amateur.

Desimone returned west just in time.

To achieve their ninth victory of the season Sunday, the Golden Bears had to erase the nine-shot deficit that stood between them and leader UCLA from a marathon Saturday at the Transamerica/WFG Western Intercollegiate. Cal wasted no time, as the Nos. 1 and 2 players made up five shots on their UCLA counterparts over the first three holes alone. By the middle of the round, Cal had taken the outright lead, and the team expanded it quickly from there.

By holing a 12-footer for birdie at Pasatiempo’s 18th, lone Cal senior Max Homa got the Golden Bears to 10-under 340 for the round (the Western is a play-six-count-five format). That 18-hole score is 10 shots lower than what Cal shot in Round 1, and 21 shots lower than Round 2. It was the lowest final-round score of any team as Cal finished the tournament at 1-over 1,051, 22 shots ahead of UCLA.

After Homa’s putt dropped, Desimone followed his players off the 18th green, but slowly. He clapped his hands twice, pointed to the rest of his team – crouched on a shady hill overlooking the green – then gave two firm fist pumps.

“That was one of the best rounds I’ve ever seen,” Desimone said to a crowd of friends and family waiting at the base of the green. “We’re talking Pasatiempo here.”

UCLA just couldn’t keep up in the final round. Senior Pedro Figueiredo, a senior from Portugal, shot a final-round 68 to cap off a 6-under 204 total that earned him medalist honors for the third time in his career. He was the only Bruin to break par on Sunday.

“We knew they were coming after us but unfortunately we just couldn’t keep it together today,” Figueiredo said of his team. “When you don’t do that against the best team in the country, it’s hard to win.”

Desimone, in his 34th year at the Cal helm, is a dominant presence at any tournament. With his easygoing demeanor and loud, gravely voice, he’s hard to miss. Still, Homa said he didn’t even know the coach was going to be at Pasatiempo until he saw Desimone while warming up that morning.

Desimone took a red-eye flight home from Augusta after Weaver missed the cut Friday evening, but arrived at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Between jet lag and lack of sleep, he couldn’t make it to the course on Saturday, but there was no way he was going to miss Sunday.

Cal hadn’t won the Western Intercollegiate since 1950, which was three years after this, the oldest collegiate event west of the Mississippi River, was founded. Desimone was well aware of that entering this week.

What he and his team have spent less time thinking about, however, is their ever-increasing victory count. The 1985-86 Oklahoma State team is believed to hold the record at 10 wins. As Cal receives more and more press, it becomes harder and harder to ignore the fact that No. 10 is approaching.

“It’s not as if we don’t know it, but this is an experienced team,” Desimone said.

This fact looms, too: Cal fell only one shot short of UNLV at its last start, the Arizona State Thunderbird Invitational, or the Western would have been No. 10.

The regular season ended with the Western, and Cal will attempt to defend its Pac-12 title in two weeks at Los Angeles Country Club. The Golden Bears won the first conference championship in program history last year.

Like the Western, the Pac-12 Championship is a play-six-count-five format. That’s something Cal excels at because of its deep roster. Without Weaver at the Western, freshmen James Yoon and Walker Huddy stepped up for Cal. Behind rounds of 66 from Homa and fellow team leader Michael Kim, James Yoon posted the next best score, a 67.

“They seem to play better as tournaments go on,” Desimone said of the team. “… To see the top four play as well as they did and then complemented by James and Walker, I guess I should say no surprise.”

With a maximum of three starts remaining in his college career, Homa is trying to focus on his own game. A player who tends to overanalyze, he made a decision Saturday night to keep his focus off the score. When he birdied the first hole and Figueiredo double bogeyed, he didn’t even notice the three-shot swing.

“Anything can happen on this golf course,” Homa noted.

Cal is a closely knit team, and Homa guesses its one reason the tournament turned out like it did. Teams played in foursomes made up of two teammates. Homa and Kim played together all three rounds.

“We were both very positive,” Homa said. “(Michael) definitely kept me grounded, without saying anything.”

Not that he needs help. Nine victories? Homa couldn’t find words for it at first.

“Ninth win, first win, 100th win, this is just a good win,” Homa said.

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