March 27, 2023
WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. -- Momentum can go both ways. Michael Brennan had the good kind Wednesday, as the Wake Forest junior overcame a shaky, 2-over-after-three-holes start, turned things around and played the last 15 holes at North Ranch Country Club in 5 under par on the way to a 3-under 69. As a result, he was able to come from five shots behind and claim a one-stroke victory in the Southwestern Invitational.
He birdied three of the last four holes to finish the 54-hole tournament with a total of 207 (9 under). This was the fifth victory of his college career, but the first since the fall of his sophomore year.
North Ranch is not an easy course. Only two of the 66 players in the field broke 70 in Tuesday's second round, and only four did it on Wednesday, which makes Brennan's three rounds of 70, 68 and 69 that much more impressive.
Besides Brennan, the only other player to break par all three days was Texas freshman Keaton Vo, who opened with a 67, added a 71 and closed with a 70. Considering how difficult scoring was, his 2-under 34 on the back nine Wednesdy could be considered a kind of mini-rally. He birdied the par-5 12th, and at the par-4 14th, he hit a spectacular, low snap hook under a tree that ran 50 or 60 yards, all the way to tap-in range for a birdie. That got him to within a stroke of Brennan, who finished more than an hour ahead of him. But Vo couldn't conjure up any more birdies. He had to settle for pars on each of the last four holes -- and second place at 208.
Jacob Sosa, another Texas freshman, had the wrong kind of momentum going for him in the middle of his round on Wednesday -- 5 over in a seven-hole span -- and he finished third at 209. On Monday, he had shot a tournament-record 61, and even though he shot 74 in windy conditions (15 to 20 mph) on Tuesday, he still led by three going into the final round.
Through eight holes, things were going pretty well for him. He made up for a bogey at the third hole with birdies at the sixth and seventh, and at that point he was 1 under for the round, 10 under for the tournament, and leading by three over Brennan. But Brennan was beginning his sprint to the finish line, having just gotten up and down from a bunker for a birdie at the 474-yard, par-5 15th, and he followed that up a few minutes later by making a 50-foot putt for a birdie at the par-4 16th.
Shortly thereafter, Sosa's round took a turn in the wrong direction. He had to make a 4-foot putt for bogey at the eighth hole, and by the time he reached the green at the ninth, which he parred, Brennan had hit a wedge shot to within 3 feet at the 18th. He made the putt for a birdie, and was tied with Sosa, who proceeded to pull-hook his tee shot into a penalty area at the 10th hole. That led to another bogey.
Suddenly, Sosa trailing by one, and it got worse for him. Unable to find the fairway once again -- another pull hook -- he committed the Cardinal Sin of tournament golf by making a bogey on a par 5, the 12th hole (526 yards), and he doubled the par-4 14th. Having led by three shots not that long ago, at minus 10, he was now minus 5, and in fourth place, four shots out of first with four holes to go.
To his credit, Sosa reversed course and got going in the right direction again after the double at No. 14. He birdied the 15th and concluded his round with another birdie at the 424-yard, par-4 18th. That gave him a 74 for the second day in a row and enabled him to move ahead of Arizona State's Luke Potter, yet another freshman, and claim third place.
Potter, like Brennan, bogeyed two of the first three holes at North Ranch on Wednesday and then went on a birdie binge. He made three in a row at the eighth, ninth and 10th, and two in a row at the 15th and 16th. That got him to 7 under for the tournament, and he was one ahead of Sosa, who was in the same foursome. But their positions were reversed when Sosa parred the 17th, a 181-yard par 3, and Potter doubled it. Sosa's valedictory birdie at the 18th put him two ahead of Potter, who shot 71 and finished fourth at 211.
In tournament golf, it's not uncommon for good players to feed off each other. One player in a group starts making birdies, and one or more of the other players in the group follow suit. But it can go the other way, too. Bad golf can be contagious, and it looked as though that was the case Wednesday for the final foursome of Sosa, Potter, Derek Hitchner and Gregory Solhaug.
Potter seemed immune to the contagion for the most part, but it was almost as if Sosa, Hitchner and Solhaug were infectinig one another for about two hours.
Basically, the bad stuff started at the eighth hole. Sosa and Hitchner, a Pepperdiine fifth-year senior (grad student) from Minneapolis, were both 1 under for the day when they arrived at the eighth tee, and Solhaug, an Oregon junior, was even. But Sosa and Solhaug both bogeyed the 188-yard par 3 eighth, and Hitchner doubled it -- for the second day in a row. Solhaug, who was the only player in the field not to make a bogey on Tuesday -- while shooting 70 for the second day in a row -- made his second bogey in a row at the ninth. Hitchner bogeyed the ninth, too.
Sosa bogeyed the 10th. Hitchner, who won the Minnesota State Amateur in 2021, and Solhaug both parred it, but Hitchner bogeyed the 11th. Having just gone 4 over for four holes (after playing the first 43 holes in 4 under), he birdied the 12th, but Sosa bogeyed it, and Solhaug bogeyed the 13th. At the 14th, a 416-yard par 4, Hitchner had a 30-foot putt for birdie, but blasted it 12 feet past the hole and missed the comebacker for par. And it was at the 14th where Sosa made the double bogey that killed his chances of winning the tournament, a tournament that he had led for two and a half days.
After that, Hitchner and Sosa seemed to come out of their funks. Sosa played the last four holes in 2 under. Hitchner played them in 1 under, making a birdie at the 15th and parring out from there for a 74, and a three-day aggregate of 215. He tied for ninth.
Solhaug never really did recover. He bogeyed the 15th, 16th and 17th holes, had to sign for a 78 and fell 13 places in the standings, down into a tie for 19th at 218.
Hitchner's strong finish helped Pepperdine secure second place in the team competition. The Waves had the low score of the day for the second straight day, a 285 (3 under), and wound up at 863. As for first place, there was never much doubt about that after Texas posted an 18-under 270 on Monday and then came back with 290 on Tuesday. That gave the defending NCAA champion Longhorns a 17-stroke lead. They put together another 290 on Wednesday and won by 13 with an overall score of 850.
Arizona State, the defending champion, moved up from fourth to third on Wednesday with a 289, which gave them a total of 868. Oregon came in with a 295 and slipped from second into fourth at 872.
At North Ranch Country Club
Par 72, 7,017 yards
Westlake Village, Calif.
1. Texas 270-290-290--850
2. Pepperdine 290-288-288--863
3. Arizona State 275-304-289--868
4. Oregon 284-293-295--872
T5. Washington 290-295-295-880
T5. UCLA 295-294-291--880
7. Georgia 288-296-299--883
T8. San Diego State 288-301-296--885
T8. Wake Forest 292-302-291--885
10. USC 300-310-289--899
11. UNLV 297-302-303--902
12. San Jose State 298-306-304--908
1. Michael Brennan, Wake Forest 70-68-69--207
2. Keaton Vo, Texas 67-71-70--208
3. Jacob Sosa, Texas 61-74-74--209
4.. Luke Potter, Arizona State 65-75-71--211
T5. Christian Maas, Texas 68-70-74--212
T5. Owen Avrit, Oregon 71-72-69--212
T7. Taehoon Song, Washington 73-70-70--213
T7. Chuan-Tai Lin, Washington 68-71-74--213
T9. Derek Hitchner, Pepperdine 69-72-74--215
T9. Justin Hastings, San Diego State 70-73-72--215
T9. Pablo Ereno, UCLA 71-69-75--215
T9. Caleb Manuel, Georgia 72-72-71--215
March 27, 2023
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