North Carolina outlasts Alabama, weather conditions to win The Hayt

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Nothing was easy in the final round of The Hayt on Monday at the Sawgrass Country Club.

Not for team champion North Carolina, whose No. 1 player Austin Greaser dumped his last two tee shots in the water to fall out the lead.

Not for individual champion Devin Patel, a Virginia junior who finished with five groups remaining on the course and with a 71, won by one shot over graduate Canon Claycomb of Alabama (74) and sophomore Ethan Evans of Duke (73) at 3-under-par 213.

But both found a way to win.

The Tar Heels, second in the Bushnell/Golfweek rankings, won their ninth tournament over the last two seasons by four shots over Alabama at 3-under 861, despite chilly, windy conditions most of the day.

Virginia junior Devin Patel won the individual title at The Hayt, the University of North Florida’s invitational at the Sawgrass Country Club. (Photo by Garry Smits/Florida Times-Union)

Patel helped move Virginia to third at 4-over and Ohio State finished fourth at 12-over.

The conditions were difficult but UNC improved on its three-shot lead at the end of the second round, thanks to junior Maxwell Ford’s 69, a 72 from senior Dylan Menante and 74s by Greaser and senior Peter Fountain.

Menante and Greaser tied for sixth at even-par 216, Fountain tied for 15th at 2-over and Maxwell Ford tied for 20th at 4-over.

The Tar Heels led by eight shots with three groups having between one and three holes to play and Greaser had a one-shot lead. But the margin fell to four after Greaser double-bogeyed the par-4 17th hole following the first of his doused tee shots and he knocked his tee shot at the par-5 18th into a small pond on the right, leading to a bogey.

It didn’t matter to the team total. Menante and Fountain, playing ahead of Greaser, both birdied No. 18 to provide enough cushion.

“Winning in our sport is hard,” said UNC coach Andrew DiBitetto. “The guys did a good job of battling and finding a way to pick up a win on a really challenging course and in some pretty challenging conditions.”

Patel won his first college tournament with a simple formula. Keep the ball low, in the fairway and make his hay on the par-5 holes.

He birdied Nos. 4, 11 and 18, the latter on a 2-foot putt after a good chip from the right side to a back-left pin.

“I usually hit the ball low and I’m pretty accurate so the conditions actually played in my favor,” Patel said. “I’ve been working pretty hard on my game and this week showed me I’ve been working on the right things.

Virginia coach Rowen Sargent was delighted with Patel’s victory, considering Ben James (a tie for 11th at 1-over) and Bryan Lee (tie for 27th at 6-over) are both among the top 40 on the Bushnell/Golfweek rankings.

Patel also finished atop a field that contained five 2023 Walker Cup members and five players among the top 25 on the PGA Tour University rankings.

“Going into the week we thought this course would be great for him,” Sargent said. “He’s hit it really straight and he’s a good iron player. It was a good venue for him. On our team, it’s hard enough to beat Ben and Bryan but he played great. We’re very proud of him.”

The host team, University of North Florida, finished ninth to break a streak of five consecutive top-five finishes in its event, with a victory and two seconds. Senior Robbie Higgins (75) finished in a tie for sixth at even-par, his third finish of sixth or higher in The Hayt.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek