Women's golf: Georgia, Tardy sweep NCAA Regional titles
BRYAN, Texas -- The No. 6-ranked Georgia women's golf team surged to the lead early in the final round and maintained a comfortable edge the rest of the afternoon en route to winning the NCAA Bryan Regional at Traditions Golf Club on Saturday.
Freshman Bailey Tardy completed the sweep of the team and individual titles for Georgia, tying for medalist honors with UCLA's Bronte Law at 7-under 209.
Georgia wrapped up play at 6-under 858, a school record for NCAA Regional and Championship competition and the fourth-best score in program history overall. The Bulldogs secured a six-shot victory over No. 11 Arizona, while No. 3 UCLA finished third at 865. Also earning NCAA Championship bids were No. 19 Furman (873), Miami (877) and Texas (879)
After is was over it was very fun, but the process of getting there was pretty stressful," head coach Josh Brewer said. "When you sign the scorecards and they call your name as champions, you can't ask for much more."
Rinko Mitsunaga, another Bulldog freshman, played a key role in Georgia's ascent from third place entering the final round to the top of the team leaderboard. She fired a 4-under 68 lead pace the Bulldogs to a 1-over 289.
Georgia also counted a 1-under 71 from Tardy, a 74 from Jillian Hollis and a 76 from Mary Ellen Shuman, while dropping Harang Lee's 77.
"We sputtered a little early, but we found our groove pretty quickly," Brewer said. "Rinko made four birdies in a row, then Jillian and Bailey made birdies and Mary Ellen made a birdie. That stretch allowed us to extend a lead. The way the golf course was playing today, you knew you were going to make a few mistakes. That margin gave us the ability to have that but still have a comfortable margin at the end. I'm so proud of all five of them."
Georgia grabbed the lead around No. 6, pushed that margin to double-digits midway through the back nine and kept at least a two-shot edge the rest of the way.
Overall, Hollis finished fourth at 5-under 211, Mitsunaga tied for 12th at 1-under 215, Lee tied for 42nd at 224 and Shuman tied for 53rd at 226.
After opening with a bogey, Mitsunaga almost single-handedly pushed Georgia to the top of the team field with a successive stretch of four birdies from Nos. 4-7. She stayed at 3-under until a birdie at No. 14 and then finished her loop with four pars.
"I almost made my second shot on 4 and from there I was really hitting it well," Mitsunaga said. "When I looked at my putts, I could just see them going in. That wasn't happening the first two days. I made a lot of good saves on the back side."
Tardy posted a double-bogey at No. 1, but played the remaining 17 holes at 3-under. She birdied No. 5 and turned at 1-over before birdies at No. 10 and No. 13 pushed her into the red for the third straight day.
"Other than that hiccup on No. 1, I played pretty well," Tardy said. "It was really windy today, and you had to fight down some of your shots. I'm just happy to be consistently under par because the last couple of tournaments I've been struggling. It's cool to win, but nothing is better than than being able to come together as a team afterward and celebrate."
The Bulldogs recorded their seventh par-or-better tournament score in 11 events this season. By comparison, Georgia finished at even-par or better only six times in its previous 35 seasons – and 413 tournaments – prior to 2015-16.
The Bulldogs will now prepare for the NCAAs, which are May 20-25 at the Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Oregon. The 24-team field will be trimmed to the top-15 schools following three rounds of stroke play on May 20-22. Another 18 holes of stroke play will be contested among those teams on May 23, with the top-eight schools advancing to a match play bracket. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be held on May 24 and the championship match played on May 25.
"I think we all needed this," Tardy said. "It was nice to bounce back because we haven't really played well as a team recently. It was just fun to be out there all weekend. I'm very happy to Rinko shooting 68 today. I think she really found her groove today, and she'll be able to carry that over to NCAAs. I think we have a good vibe going right now, and we're going to just try to keep doing what we're doing."
"We have struggled a little bit this spring," Mitsunaga said. "This win is really big for us. We're all playing well again, and we all really helped each other this weekend. I love Oregon. I'm super excited about going back to Oregon."
Less than a year ago, Mitsunaga teamed up with an IMG Academy teammate to win the inaugural USGA 4-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes in Oregon.
The Regional win is the Bulldogs' first since Georgia's 1999 NCAA runner-up team captured the East Regional that year. Georgia also won the 1993 and 1998 East Regionals. Reilley Rankin is the Bulldogs' only other Regional medalist, winning in 1999.
Though Georgia has one of the sport's richest traditions in women's golf – with 20 top-10 and 25 top-20 finishes at the national championships since 1979 – this weekend's performance ended a six-year drought for the Bulldogs from the team competition at NCAA Championships. Georgia last reached the NCAAs in 2009 when the Bulldogs placed 15th. That showing snapped a string of nine top-10 showings in an 11-year span.