In the 27-year history of the Cougar Classic golf tournament, there hasn't been a more exciting finish than the one Saturday afternoon at Riverside Country Club. Three teams came into the final hole with a chance to win before the matter was finally decided.
Unfortunately for host BYU, the Cougars weren't part of the excitement as New Mexico was the winner by one shot over UNLV and two shots over the University of Utah. The Lobos had a 54-hole total of 1,092, the highest winning total in Cougar Classic history.BYU, which had its streak of 20 straight Cougar Classic victories snapped, finished a respectable nine shots back, but in sixth place behind Colorado and Cal-Berkeley in addition to the top three.
"Everything good has to come to an end sometime," said BYU Coach Karl Tucker, whose team had never finished lower than second in the tourney. "Naturally we're diappointed to lose, but it's incredible we've carried it as long as we have. We've always tried to get a great field, but this is the best field we've ever had."
It looked for much of the day like Utah would repeat its upset victory here last May in the WAC golf championships. Halfway through the round, the Utes had taken the lead, two shots ahead of New Mexico and five ahead of UNLV. With the final group on No. 17, Ute Coach Ron Branca figured it was either a three-way tie or his team was up by one. But the Utes finished poorly as three players bogeyed the 18th hole and two bogeyed the 17th.
"We lost it on the last two holes," said Branca. "We lost five shots on the last two holes and that was the difference. But to be fair, everybody had problems on the last two holes. UNLV had a double-bogey on 17, and New Mexico had some bogeys coming in."
New Mexico Coach John Fields, in just his second year after taking over for Dwaine Knight - who moved to UNLV - was thrilled by the victory, especially since his team had stood in 11th place after the first 18 holes Friday.
"I couldn't be happier, I'm really proud of them," said Fields. "They could have folded up their tents, but they gutted it out. This is a fantastic tournament for us to win. There's a great history here and that makes the victory so meaningful."
While the team competition was tight to the last putt, the individual competition wasn't. Colorado's John Lindberg, who was second two years ago in his last appearance here, nearly lapped the field, winning by seven shots over Utah's Matt Johnson, who had won in his last appearance at Riverside in the WAC championships.
Lindberg, a 26-year-old from Sweden, had started the day with a one-shot lead over Cal's Ben Furth. At Saturday's turn, he still led by one, over the fast-charging Johnson, who was 5-under on the front. But while Johnson went 2-over on the back, Lindberg shot a 4-under 32 on the back with birdies at 11, 14, 15 and 16 and a 12-foot (or four-yard as Lindberg would say) par-saver on 17 to record a 67, the best score of the day. That left him at 204, just two shots off Rick Fehr's record.
"It's always fun to win," said Lindberg, who has barely a trace of an accent. "I'm not hitting the ball that good, actually - not terrible, but I can hit it better. My putting came around today."
"Put that he made everything," said Furth, his playing partner, who finished third at 212.
New Mexico's Kent Jones was fourth at 213, while BYU's Ramon Brobio and UNLV's Brandon Goethalf tied for fifth at 215.
In the team competition, UC-Santa Barbara was two shots behind BYU at 1103, followed by San Jose State and Stanford at 1104, Wyoming at 1118, Weber State at 1121, Utah State at 1154 and Boise State at 1158.
For BYU, the end of the streak isn't too surprising considering that the Cougars only had one golfer (Rafael Ponce) who played in last year's tournament.
"We're young - this is as many freshmen as we've ever had," said Tucker. "I think we'll be back, but it takes a little time."
Tucker and his Cougars will head down to Albuquerque this week, along with Utah, Wyoming and the host Lobos for the Western Athletic Conference championships Thursday through Saturday.