Freshman Austin Hitt fired a 3-under 67 and juniors Ben Griffin and Jose Montaño shot 69s to lead the University of North Carolina to a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Stanford Regional and a berth in the 2017 NCAA Golf Championship.
Carolina entered today's third round in eighth place and six shots out of the top five, which was needed to advance, but played its way past Georgia Tech, Houston and North Florida to claim the fifth spot by a single stroke over the Yellow Jackets.
The top-five finish sends Carolina to the NCAA Championship round for the first time under head coach Andrew Sapp and associate head coach Andrew DiBitetto and the first time as a program since 2007. The NCAA Championship is May 26-31 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
Carolina shot 288-278-277 for a three-day total of 843 (+3). The Tar Heels played the first round in 8-over-par, but were one of only three teams (with Stanford and Pepperdine) to play the second and third rounds under par.
The host Cardinals and Baylor tied for the team lead at 17 under, Pepperdine was third at -6, Oklahoma was fourth at -3, UNC was fifth at +3, Georgia Tech was sixth at +4 and North Florida was seventh at +5.
The Sooners' Brad Dalke won medalist honors with a 12-under 198, three shots better than Baylor's Cooper Dossey.
All four of the Tar Heels who counted in the final round moved up in the final individual standings today.
Griffin improved six places to finish 11th at 1-under 209, Montaño moved up 15 spots to tie for 17th at 1-over 211, Hitt advanced 26 positions to a tie for 33rd at 215, and Register climbed three rungs to finish in a tie for 38th with senior Zach Martin at 216.
“I'm so proud of how hard our guys fought this week,” says Sapp. “They played clutch golf today, especially down the stretch when the pressure was on. This was a total team effort with important contributions from each player.
“Ben (Griffin) led the way by shooting under par for the tournament and Jose (Montaño) had a wonderful final two rounds in the 60s. Zach (Martin) threw in a 69 in round two that helped us get back in the hunt. William (Register) counted in all three rounds, and Hitt's 67 as the first player out today set the tone in the final round.
“We are ecstatic to be heading to Rich Harvest Farms for the National Championship.”
Hitt, a freshman from Longwood, Fla., made a combined four birdies and shot 75-73 in the first two rounds, but had five birdies on Wednesday, including three in his final nine holes, to shoot 67 and match his season-low round.
Griffin, a junior from Chapel Hill, continued his stellar play late in the season with a 69 today and a 1-under finish. He was 1-over at the turn, then birdied the first and seventh holes. Griffin has led UNC in four of the last five tournaments, including a second-place finish at the ACC Championship, and played under par in each of the last three events.
Montaño, a junior from Cochabamba, Bolivia, posted his third top-25 finish in as many NCAA Regionals. He had four birdies today, including back-to-back birdies on the seventh and eighth holes, his 52nd and 53rd of the 54-hole tournament.
Register, a junior from Burlington, N.C., began the day by bogeying four of his first five holes, but eagled the 16th hole (his seventh hole of the day) and played the last 13 holes in 2-under-par.
Martin, a senior from Pinehurst, N.C., played in his first team events as a Tar Heel this year and entered the final round of the regional at even par before finishing with a 76.
Carolina played its way to the NCAA Championship in large measure due to its performance on two of the Stanford Golf Course's frontside par 5s. Three of the four Tar Heels whose scores counted in the final round – Hitt, Griffin and Register – birdied both the 521-yard, par-5 first hole and the 539-yard, par-5 seventh hole and Montaño birdied the seventh.