Bears finish as runner-ups for 2nd straight year at Alister MacKenzie Invite

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It’s a busy week for Cal men’s golf, to say the least.

After wrapping up action at the two-day, 54-hole Alister MacKenzie Invitational in Fairfax, California on Tuesday, the Bears took on 18 more at the Menlo Country Club in Woodside for the second annual Big Match with Stanford.

It helps ease the tension of a busy week, though, to know that Cal got its four-round, three-day schedule started with a runner-up performance at its home event in Fairfax.

Junior Finigan Tilly led the effort in the final round for the Bears, carding a 6-under-par 65, which included eight birdies and shot him up 13 spots to finish in sole possession of eighth overall. This figure bested Tilly’s previous career-low for a round — a 67 that dates back to the spring 2017 season.

“I’ve been feeling good about my game the past couple weeks, and I felt comfortable out there at Meadow. I just rode a hot putter (Tuesday),” Tilly said.

Tilly’s 65 was the best round of the weekend for Cal, though true freshman Kento Yamawaki logged a 5-under-par 66 of his own in the second round. Yamawaki finished the tournament 20th overall — the highest finish of his collegiate career.

This was the second consecutive year that the Bears took second in the Alister Mackenzie Invitational, with No. 9 Pepperdine finishing first both years. The Waves are one of the deepest squads in the nation with two golfers ranked in the top-20 individually and even more recognizable starters from their NCAA Championships run in the spring. Pepperdine exhibited this experience by carding a 16-stroke triumph over Cal, finishing the 54 holes at 43-under-par.

Regardless of Pepperdine’s dominance, this week was about getting back to form for the Bears, and a runner-up finish to one of the nation’s best is a step in the right direction.

The mantra for this tournament, according to Cal’s Alex and Marie Shipman Director of Men’s Golf Walter Chun, was patience.

“Our job … (was) to try and stay as patient as possible. … if a school like Pepperdine started at, say, 30-under, it’s just a matter of trying to incorporate (the guys) being patient,” Chun said.

The numbers express Cal’s patience in the face of fewer birdies than expected. The Bears led the field in pars for the tournament, but had 15 fewer birdies than Pepperdine come the end of the event.

The Bears fielded a six-man roster for Wednesday’s Big Match, which does not include Tilly or redshirt senior Jamie Cheatham, who finished 31st at the MacKenzie behind a 2-under-par outing.

72 holes and hours of travel over just three days is a lot for anyone outside of the circuit of professional tours, but this is all about priming for the regular season.

“We (wanted) to have momentum heading into Florida,” Chun said in regards to Cal’s upcoming Tavistock Collegiate Invitational in Windermere.

Although a 12th-place finish to start the season was not particularly conducive to this momentum, the runner-up outing at the Alister MacKenzie Invitational is the first step toward a seasonal change in the tides.

“I’ve got high hopes for us. I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Tilly said.

Ethan Waters covers men’s golf. Contact him at [email protected].