MILTON — Top-seeded California survived a quarterfinal scare from Pac-12 rival Arizona State on Friday to advance to the semifinals in the NCAA golf championship.
Brandon Hage birdied No. 18 after a nearly perfect approach to give the Bears a 3-2 victory and a spot in the semifinals against Illinois. The fifth-seeded Illini beat defending champion Texas 3-2.
Host Georgia Tech will face Alabama, the 2012 runner-up, in the other semifinal at the Capital City Club's Crabapple Course north of Atlanta. The second-seeded Yellow Jackets needed a birdie from Ollie Schneiderjans on an extra hole to edge UNLV 3-2, while third-seeded Alabama topped New Mexico 4-1.
Hage hit his 137-yard approach within 3 feet to set up the winning birdie against Jon Rahm, the Arizona State freshman who shot a 61 on Tuesday in the first round of stroke play.
Hage's shot came after he had failed to close things out on No. 17 when his par putt lipped out.
"I just concentrated on the target and made a good swing," the junior said.
Asked if he was nervous, Hage didn't hesitate. "Absolutely," he said.
Cal coach Steve Deismond said he had been antsy throughout the match.
"It was an uneasy feeling," said Deismond, in his 34th season as Bears coach. "How many times (this year) have we been in a situation like this? Almost zero."
Schneiderjans also hit a decisive approach, sticking his shot within a couple feet from about 110 yards and holing to putt to beat Kevin Penner, who had made a 50-footer on No. 17 to tie.
"I knew everything was on the line, but I called on my experience and felt really calm," the sophomore said. "It was a great match. He played very well."
Cal, which finished stroke play Thursday six shots ahead of second-place Georgia Tech, entered the tournament as the favorite after winning 11 of 13 tournaments this season.
The Bears, the NCAA champs in 2004, lost 3-2 to Alabama in the semifinals in 2012 and anything less than a title will mark this season as a disappointment.
Arizona State coach Tim Mickelson, PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson's brother, still considers the Bears in an elite class.
"I don't see how it gets any better," he said. "I believe it's the best (college) team we've ever put on golf course. If they don't win it's a shame. But it's match play and you never know."
Deismond didn't take Arizona State lightly, and is concerned about Illinois.
"What's kind of gone under the radar screen is that those two teams are the two most improved teams in college golf this spring, period," the Cal coach said.
Illinois is assured of matching its best NCAA finish since 1941, when it was fourth. The Illini lost in the quarterfinals in 2011, the third year of the match-play format.
"A bull's-eye on your back means your ahead," said Cal senior Max Homa, who won the NCAA individual title Thursday. "Pressure is a privilege. There can never be too much pressure."