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Jim Seimas | Santa Cruz Sentinel | April 9, 2018

Oregon's Xiong wins Western Intercollegiate in playoff

SANTA CRUZ -- Norman Xiong wore a smile on his face for much of his one and a half rounds at Pasatiempo Golf Club on Sunday.

Never was it bigger than after his final putt, which capped a 10-hour day on the course and ended with another title. The University of Oregon sophomore, who intends to turn pro after the upcoming NCAA Championships, knocked off Cal's Collin Morikawa on a third playoff hole to claim medalist honors at the 72nd annual Western Intercollegiate -- his third straight tournament title.

Xiong, a big hitter who hails from Canyon Lake, fired off rounds of 68, 65 and 67 for a 10-under-par 200. His total was matched by Morikawa and Arizona's George Cunningham, who was eliminated from title contention on the first playoff hole.

"This one's definitely a huge one," Xiong said of the win. "It's my third one in a row, so that's really something special. And to do it over such a great field and have all the top amateurs play in it, to win it over them, it means a lot."

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Morikawa is No. 3 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Xiong is No. 4 and No. 7 Justin Suh of USC was also in the field.

After Xiong and Morikawa matched pars on the 457-yard first hole and the 500-yard ninth hole, the players returned to No. 1 for the third playoff hole.

Xiong outdrove Morikawa by 20 yards on the final playoff hole and hit his gap wedge, from 135 yards out, 10 feet past the pin. With backspin, the ball rolled back to one foot on the right side of the hole -- a simple tap-in.

"That was definitely a good shot," Xiong said of his approach. "It was just a full one right at the flag."

Morikawa hit 9-iron on his approach shot on No. 1 but the ball settled 12 feet to the left of the pin. He narrowly missed his birdie putt and Xiong one-putted for the birdie and the win, much to the approval of his teammates standing within earshot.

Morikawa, a former Walker Cup teammate of Xiong's, wasn't dejected.

"I can finally say I kinda figured out this course," said Morikawa, a junior who vowed to return for his season season. "It played a little different than the past two years. I really stuck to my game plan all week and kinda minimized my errors. I just really hit some good spots. This course can really get to you. And I putted a lot better this week, even better than the past month."

The fact the tournament was able to go 54 holes was a testament to superintendent Justin Mandon and his staff, said San Jose State coach John Kennaday. Four and one-half inches of rain fell the region during Friday's practice round and early Saturday, when 36 holes were scheduled to be played. Play was stopped midway through the second round due to darkness and completed Sunday.

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Tournament newcomer University of North Carolina (1,036) rolled to the team title by shooting 14-under in the six-play, five-score format.

Morikawa helped lead Cal (1,046) to second place. San Diego State (1,052) and 2017 champion USC tied for third place in the 15-team field.

University of Texas -- minus senior Doug Ghim, the U.S. Amateur runner-up who made the cut at the Masters in Augusta, Ga. -- took fifth with a 1,054 total. The Longhorns were led by Spencer Soosman (206) and 2015 Wester Intercollegiate medalist Scottie Scheffler (207).

Stanford (1,058) tied Oregon for sixth place and tournament host San Jose State (1,080) took 11th.

Xiong posted an eagle-3 on No. 9, four birdies and three bogeys in his final round. A finishing bogey on No. 18 proved just as valuable as any of his 14 birdies in the tournament. It got him into the playoff.

And it wasn't just any bogey. San Jose State's Kevin Velo, a member of Xiong's foursome, said: "That's one of the top five golf shots I've ever see in my life -- like, ever."

Xiong's iron shot on the downhill par-3 hole sailed long into a backside bunker, well above the pin on a green that sloped downhill. On the massive, multi-tiered green, there was about a one-foot wide safe spot for the ball to settle. Xiong found it. Though he missed his short putt to save par, bogey was still a blessing.

"I had no chance really," Xiong said. "I knew I had to try my best to get out of there with (a) four. And so me and Casey (Martin, the Ducks' head coach) were talking over it and I just kinda whacked it right at my spot. It just kinda had to roll out perfectly. I missed the putt, but I knew that if I went into a playoff, I had good confidence."

This article is written by Jim Seimas from The Santa Cruz Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.