One big swing gave Ole Miss sophomore Braden Thornberry control, and he never let go until he was the NCAA men’s golf champion.
Thornberry capped off a big year Monday when he closed with a 1-under 71 on a brutal day of scoring at Rich Harvest Farms to capture the NCAA individual title with a four-shot victory over Mason Overstreet of Arkansas. It was the first golf title for the Rebels.
Vanderbilt romped its way to the No. 1 seed for the match play portion of the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship, which starts Tuesday. The Commodores finished 12 shots ahead of Oklahoma, while defending champion Oregon made a late push behind Ryan Gronlund to secure its spot in the eight-team field.
The other five teams advancing were Illinois, Oklahoma State, Southern California, Baylor and UNLV.
Thornberry started the final round two shots behind Scottie Scheffler of Texas, who immediately gave up the lead. After a bogey on his opening hole at No. 10, Scheffler hit a provisional tee shot for a lost ball on the par-5 11th. He never found his original tee shot and went on to make triple bogey.
Thornberry was even par for the day when he ripped his driver on the reachable par-4 sixth hole, the ball bouncing softly out of the rough to about 18 feet. He made the eagle putt to seize control and no one seriously challenged him the rest of the way.
“In the practice round I hit the same shot and it was a little into the wind, so I knew driver was going to be perfect,” Thornberry said. “I just stepped up there and happened to hit a big one.”
Ole Miss missed the cut as a team.
Scheffler still had a chance late in his round until he missed a birdie opportunity on the par-5 seventh, took par on No. 8 and then twice hit trees on the final hole for a double bogey to close with a 78.
His late mistake wasn’t nearly as costly as it was for Matthias Schwab of Vanderbilt, Overstreet and Rico Hoey of Southern California.
Schwab was within two shots with four holes to play when he hit his tee shot and his approach into the water on the 15th and took triple bogey. He closed with a 75 and tied for third with Scheffler and Theo Humphrey of Vanderbilt (70).
Overstreet was three shots back until bogeys on the 16th and 17th took him out of it. Hoey was on the fringe of contention until he made two double bogeys over his last six holes and shot 76 to finish seven back.
The best finish belonged to Gronlund, and the Ducks rode him into the match play. Gronlund birdied his last four holes, including a 10-footer on the final hole. Oregon, which won last year on its home course, were still outside the top eight until late collapses by Southern California, Baylor, UNLV and Virginia. The odd team out was Virginia, which had two players made double bogey on the par-5 seventh hole.
LSU finished ninth, two shots out of qualifying for match play, with the Cavaliers another shot behind.
The Trojans, who started the final round one shot behind Vanderbilt, added their best four scores for a 23-over 311. UNLV was on the verge of dropping out of the top eight when Justin Kim made a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 17th hole. Kim answered with a birdie on the par-5 18th, and the clincher came from John Oda.
Needing to make par on the final hole for UNLV to advance, he hit his second shot in a greenside bunker, blasted out to 10 feet and holed it for a birdie.
UNLV has to face Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning, with Oklahoma facing Baylor, Illinois against Southern California and Oregon taking on Oklahoma State. The semifinals are Tuesday afternoon, followed by the championship match Wednesday.