For the second tournament in a row, the No. 12 USC men’s golf team entered the final three holes of an event three pars away from victory.
And for the second straight tournament, the Trojans were unable to finish strong, playing the last three holes in a combined nine over par and slipping to third place at the Arizona State University Thunderbird Invitational in Tempe, Ariz.
“It’s extremely disappointing when we were in a position where we were in control,” junior Matt Giles said. “When you’re in that position, you really need to just keep making pars and birdies but unfortunately we didn’t do that.”
USC got as low as 17 under par in the third round before falling back to a 10 under par finish, three strokes behind tournament champion No. 3 Washington. The Huskies shot 16 under par on the final round and charged up from seventh place to win the title.
It wasn’t all bad news for the Trojans, however. Giles seemed to have returned to his All-American form from a season ago, posting his first top-five finish of the season.
“It’s all been coming together in the last few weeks and that’s exciting,” Giles said. “Now I’m looking to finish on a good note.”
Giles tied for third, shooting 70-68-69 to finish six under par for the tournament.
Sophomore Steve Lim led the field after two outstanding rounds on the opening day, recording 13 birdies and posting 68-65.
“I felt absolutely great. My putting and short game were absolutely phenomenal,” Lim said. “Everything was working.”
Lim struggled in the final round, however, shooting eight bogies and a double bogey to finish tied for eighth with a 75.
“I just couldn’t make any putts,” Lim said. “I just couldn’t finish at all. I couldn’t finish to help myself as an individual or the team.”
Freshman T.J. Vogel, who posted second-place finishes in the last two stroke play events, shot one under par for the tournament (69-71-72) and finished in a tie for 22nd.
Freshman Martin Trainer shot 71-74-70 to tie for 35th, while fellow freshman Stewart Hagestad had a rough week, posting 71-75-79 to finish 76th.
Redshirt junior Bo DeHuff competed as an individual and shot 69-76-71, good for a tie for 42nd.
The tournament also acted as a preview for the Pac-10 Championships, which will be held on the same Karsten Golf Course from April 26 to 28.
“It gives us an extra three competition rounds plus a practice round in order to prepare for [the championship],” Giles said. “We feel as though it’s a good course for us.”
All of the Pac-10 teams competed in the Thunderbird Invitational hosted by Arizona State. USC placed ahead of seven of its conference foes, finishing behind only Washington and No. 6 UCLA.
In spite of failing to close the deal on a victory for the second straight tournament, the Trojans’ third consecutive top-three finish has USC back into the national title picture.
“We’re much better now,” Lim said. “We’re at the top of the list. A couple months ago we had absolutely no chance [to win]. We’re on the right track.”
Giles agreed, saying that contending for tournament titles is a good sign.
“We feel as if we’ve really improved as a team and we’re giving ourselves opportunities, which is a great thing,” Giles said.
USC will tee it up on Sunday in the opening round of the Stanford Intercollegiate in Palo Alto, Calif.