Feb. 22, 2008
HONOLULU - Two very impressive scores of 67 in a row were not enough for California's Stephen Hale as the freshman fired a third five-under round to win the individual championship at the John Burns Intercollegiate at Leilelua Golf Course on the island of Oahu on Friday. Hale's performance helped the Golden Bears earn a sixth-place finish in the competitive 21-team field.
Hale tore through the par-72, 6,916-yard course on all three days, connecting on seven birdies in each of his three rounds. After entering Friday's final round tied for the lead, he opened action with a birdie and relentlessly pulled away from the field to win by two strokes.
"Obviously it feels pretty good [to get my first tournament victory]," Hale said. "It's been a lot of work leading up to it and I'm glad I put in a couple of good rounds and got a win. I thought I could do well, but was not expecting to win [this soon in my career]. Hopefully I can continue to help the team and everyone will play well and we'll go to the NCAAs."
"It was a very impressive performance by Stephen this week against a very, very solid field," Cal head coach Steve Desimone said. "With five holes to go, he was seven under, but I think over the last five or six holes, he showed a little bit of what it's like to be a freshman playing under the pressure of trying to win your first tourney. He had 21 birdies over 54 holes. When you have birdies on 40 percent of your holes, you're doing a lot of things right. He hit it well; his short-game was solid and he made a lot of putts. If you do that and things fall right, you'll win. He sure deserves it, no doubt it."
Auburn won the team title at the event, firing a blistering 820 (44 below par) over the three rounds. Texas A&M took second place at 831 (-33), followed closely by UNLV (832, -32). San Diego State (835, -29) and SMU (841, -23) held off the Golden Bears who hoped for a top-five finish with their 843 (-21).
Hale was not the only strong performer for the Golden Bears. Junior George Gandranata tallied a second-straight 70 to finish at 212 (-4), tied for 34th place. Senior Brandon Beck had his best round since returning from mono by shooting a 71, finishing at 218 (+2), tied for 65th place. Freshman Eric Mina matched Beck with a 218 as well.
"Stephen played great, but everyone contributed," Desimone said. "Brandon was one under over the last couple of rounds, Eric was even, and George was four-under over the last two. That's the kind of play you need across the board to be successful. Great players can carry a team and any of these guys can do what Stephen did. This week was just his week."
The victory by Hale was Cal's first individual title since Michael Wilson won Cal's own Alister MacKenzie Invitational on Oct. 10, 2006. It was the Bears' first title away from its home course since Wilson captured the CordeValle Collegiate on Nov. 1, 2005. His overall 201 is the best score by a Cal golfer in over five years.
All three of Cal's rounds (284-278-281) were better than any other rounds this year away from home - the Bears tallied a 274 and a 277 in the first two rounds of its own MacKenzie Invitational at the par-71 Meadow Club.
"The guys knew coming out of the fall that we weren't at full strength," Desimone said. "This week's scores are important numbers for us. When you look at the scores and the quality of the last two fields, there is no question we're moving in the right direction."
Cal returns to action On March 3 at the USC Collegiate Invitational hosted by USC at North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village.
Score: 284-278-281 - 843 (-21)
Individuals (through one round):