Courtesy Photo / Jamie Schwaberow
Thursday, May 30, 2013 | 6:50 p.m.
Kurt Kitayama holed out from more than 200 yards on his final shot, putting the UNLV men’s golf team in position for a playoff that they survived late Thursday to advance to Friday’s match play at 8:30 a.m. Las Vegas time at the NCAA Division I Championships in Atlanta. The No. 7 seed Rebels will face No. 2 seed and host school Georgia Tech.
The Rebels needed Kitayama’s eagle on No. 9, his final hole of the day, just to have any chance at surviving. After coming into the day 10 shots back of the cut line, UNLV finished at 8-under for the day. That was three strokes better than any other team in the field.
That put the Rebels in a tie with Mountain West champion New Mexico for the eighth and final qualifying spot. Out of 30 teams that finished all three rounds at the Capital City Club, the top eight would move on to match play over the next three days.
While the Rebels and Lobos waited at their hotels, the rest of the teams finished on the course. An Arkansas player who birdied on his second to last hole missed a five-foot par putt on his final one, leaving the Razorbacks one stroke shy of the playoff.
On the other side of the tension, Texas A&M originally looked like it finished its tournament at plus-1, which would have been good for sixth place. However, it was later announced an Aggie player was docked one stroke during the final round for slow play, dropping A&M into a four-team playoff with UNLV, UNM and Arizona State, which needed a crucial putt on the final hole just to make the sudden death playoff.
The four teams were competing for three match play slots. Five players, sorted by the best score over all three rounds, lined up for a shotgun start at holes No. 11, 15, 16, 17 and 18 as the sun started to fade from view. Only the top four scores counted for each team.
After all five groups finished play it looked like players were about to tee off for a second sudden death hole, but organizers, who were trying to add everything up and talk to each from several different locations on the course, determined there was an odd team out. Texas A&M, which wouldn’t have even been in the playoff if not for that slow play penalty, bogeyed two holes, meaning one counted for its score. The other three teams finished even, dropping the Aggies and sending the other teams back to the clubhouse at about 8:30 p.m. local time.
UNLV’s Kevin Penner, the Mountain West individual champion, finished tied for second with five other players at minus-6. The overall champ was Cal’s Max Homa, and the top-ranked Golden Bears will go into match play as the top seed. Cal will face Arizona State, No. 3 seed Alabama will face New Mexico and No. 4 seed Texas will face Illinois. The winners will meet Saturday with the surviving two teams facing off head to head Sunday.
After Penner, Kitayama finished second on the team at even after three rounds. That eagle dropped the sophomore to minus-3 on the final day.
The other Rebels were Carl Jonson (plus-6), A.J. McInerney (plus-8) and Nicholas Maruri (plus-10). Since the top four scores were used each day, Maruri’s plus-1 on Wednesday was the team’s second-best score, helping to keep the Rebels alive for Thursday’s comeback.
UNLV has never competed in match play at the championships before. The system was not yet in place when the Rebels won the national title in 1998.
Fans can follow the match and watch some of it streaming live at the NCAA website.