Cal's Homa claims NCAA individual title
__By Ryan Herrington
MILTON, GA.—__Considering he attends an esteemed institute of higher learning in the University of California at Berkeley, you'd think senior Max Homa would be able to do the math. A 61, in golf terms at least, beats a 66.
But when the 66 comes in the final round of the NCAA Championship, securing the individual title and his squad's place as the No. 1 seed entering the match-play portion of the tournament, well perhaps we'll forgive the 22-year-old senior from Valencia, Calif., for adding some intangibles in the equation. A month after shooting an opening-round 61 en route to winning the Pac-12 title, Homa has a new favorite performance.
"I'm as excited as I can be. This is the biggest accomplishment of my life," Homa said. "Obviously the team [championship] would be much better, but right now it feels really, really good."
Homa's bogey-free performance at Capital City Club's Crabapple Course Thursday afternoon gave him a nine-under 201 total, three strokes better than half-dozen players, and made him the first Golden Bear to claim medalist honors at the national championship.
He did it to under some duress. His threesome twice missed their times at pace-of-play checkpoints on the front nine, leaving them susceptible to a potential slow-play penalty, a similar situation that Homa found himself in during the second round.
However, the group picked up play on the back nine and after meeting with rules officials after the round were not assessed any extra strokes.
Homa started the day tied for fourth, two shots back of Arizona State freshman Jon Rahm, the leader after 18 and 36 holes. He quickly moved into the lead with birdies on three of his first five holes.
Yet it was a par on the eighth hole that might have been the turning point for Homa. After a bad tee shot, he needed to lay up back into the fairway with his second shot. His third found the green but 40 feet from the cup. When the par-saving putt found the bottom of the hole, he knew this could be his day.
"For me that really settled me down," Homa said. "It made me feel like everything was going to be all right."
A 10-foot birdie on the 12th hole got him to nine under for the tournament, a number that no other player could chase down. Cal teammate Brandon Hagy was at eight under but double bogeyed the 15th to fall out of contention. Bogeys on his fifth and 14th holes caused Rahm, who opened the tournament with a 61, to fall back as well.
It wasn't until nearly 45 minutes after Homa had signed his scorecard that he finally was officially the medalist. Florida State's Daniel Berger birdied his 14th and 15th holes to get to seven under but with a bogey on his last, he wound up sharing second place with Rahm, Texas' __ Brandon Stone__, Tennessee's__Rick Lamb__, Auburn's__Dominic Bozzelli__ and UNLV's Kevin Penner.
"Max has been the leader of this team," said Cal coach Steve Desimone. "Max stepped into that spot two years ago, and he's been a warrior. … If there's anybody in the country better than Max, I'd have to see it."
Indeed, Homa has carded eight top-10 finishes in 2012-13 season, including four runner-ups to go with his Pac-12 title. He also became he first individual NCAA winner to also play for a team that advanced to match play since the new portion of the format was added in 2009
"I always test myself on when it counts, when the lights are on what do you do," Homa said, explaining the emotions he felt after claiming this particular title.
"Personally, coming in as a freshman I couldn't imagine being at a national championship let alone contending. … To come out and beat [the best college players in the country] when you need to just makes you feel so much better about your own game."
Photo by J.D. Cuban__*