Wilson leads Stanford to Western Intercollegiate title

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SANTA CRUZ, Calif. –– A fourth consecutive individual title was loaded into the Stanford team van on April 13, but there was a twist. Instead of junior Patrick Rodgers leaving the Transamerica/WFG Western Intercollegiate with a fourth straight victory, the hardware went home with Cameron Wilson.

Wilson, straight-faced even after the victory, surged over the final 18 holes. When Rodgers, with a two-shot lead after 15 holes, left the door open with bogeys at Nos. 16 and 18, Wilson capitalized. He chipped in for birdie at No. 17 then made a 30-footer for birdie at the 18th after playing a gutsy shot off the tee at the downhill par 3 that landed pin-high.

“I knew it was a big putt, but I had no idea it was for the win,” said Wilson, who finished two shots better than Rodgers at 7-under 203.

It was a strange morning for the Cardinal as the individual title became the most intriguing race. Stanford took a six-shot lead into the final round and increased that to a 16-shot victory with its 10-under 1,040 total.

The Western features a unique format in which players are placed in foursomes with one other teammate and two players from an opposing team. That meant Rodgers and Wilson played side-by-side on Sunday. Stanford head coach Conrad Ray watched closely, and at times felt like a caddie for two opposing players.

“I think Patrick is really bummed because he was wanting to keep his streak alive, but if there’s any guy he’s rooting for, it’s Cameron,” said Ray.

It’s not unusual for Wilson to play with Rodgers since that happens at practice all the time. The competitive element, however, gave it an odd feeling. Wilson had to get over that discomfort at the beginning of the round, as both players were tied. Wilson finished with a final-round 69 to Rodgers’ 71.

“It’s hard to be in contention with someone who is on your team,” Wilson said after the round, explaining that you always hope for the best for your teammates.

For Wilson, the top-ranked player in Golfstat’s head-to-head rankings, this marks a peak in his game at the just the right time. The Pac-12 Championship and postseason are just around the corner. Wilson tied for first at the Fighting Illini Invitational to start the season, but said he’s felt good about his swing all year.

Had Rodgers, who was second at 5-under 203, claimed the title, it would have been his 10th collegiate title. Rodgers will turn professional at the end of the season, and has a maximum of three more college events to win two titles. That would give him 11 career victories, the same number Tiger Woods won in two years on the Stanford roster.

At day’s end, a teammate’s victory and one for the team was good enough for Rodgers. Dad Charlie had flown from the family’s home in Indianapolis to watch for the fourth consecutive tournament – just in case being absent from Patrick’s gallery would amount to some sort of jinx.

As badly as Rodgers wanted the victory, he never pushed. He’s experienced enough golf to realize that could only have the opposite effect at Pasatiempo.

“This golf course is so demanding, you have to be focused on the golf course and make good decisions,” he said. “You can’t really be focused on where you are on the leaderboard because as soon as you start doing that, you hit at a flag you shouldn’t or leave it in a spot you shouldn’t be.”

The team victory marked the ninth Western Intercollegiate title for Stanford in the event’s 68-year history. The Cardinal last won in 1996, when Woods was in the field.

It’s the first Western victory under Ray, whose message to players after the opening day was to come out of the gates strong on Sunday morning. Indeed, the Cardinal was steady to start the day, and went a collective 1 under on the difficult par-3 third hole in the play-six-count-five format. They left runner-up Washington in the dust, giving the Huskies their fifth second-place finish of the season.

Even as Wilson and Rodgers close in on the final days of their Stanford career, there is promise down the roster. The best scores on Sunday, a pair of 3-under 67s, came from freshmen Jim Liu and Maverick McNealy.

“Our team finishes have been great all year,” Rodgers said. “It’s so refreshing to have depth on our team.”

The future of Cardinal golf is in good hands.

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