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USF men win fourth consecutive AAC golf title

Senior Claudio Correa earned low-medalist honors, shooting 6-under-part for the three-day event
The USF men's golf team has won five tournaments this season, tying the program's single-season record. (JOEY KNIGHT | Times)
The USF men's golf team has won five tournaments this season, tying the program's single-season record. (JOEY KNIGHT | Times)
Published Apr. 24, 2018

Only 445 yards separated USF's resident runner-up from the 2018 breakthrough he coveted.

Two or three more swings, and Bulls senior Claudio Correa's first individual title of the season would be in the bag, right where his team's conference title already had been securely stowed.

So Correa took a deep breath as he stood on the No. 18 tee box Tuesday at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course, approached the tee, swung his 2-iron mightily and watched the ball sail lazily — but not drastically — left.

"I knew that my 2-iron couldn't get me in really bad trouble," Correa said. "I knew I could get in those bunkers, but I knew from those bunkers it wasn't a really hard shot."

Three strokes later, Correa — a second-place finisher in three previous tournaments this year — had clinched low medalist honors at the American Athletic Conference tournament. His 6-under-par 207 in the three-day event was good enough for a three-stroke win, and two shots shy of the individual tournament record.

And that final exhale? It stood in figurative contrast to his veteran team, which never seemed to breathe heavy at any point in the tournament.

The Bulls' 10-under 842 — 20 strokes better than runner-up SMU — gave the program its fourth consecutive AAC title. The victory margin tied the 2016 Bulls squad for the largest in this 5-year-old event.

"I think they look at that stuff, they pay attention to that," said fourth-year Bulls coach Steve Bradley, whose team now has led the last 12 rounds of this tournament.

"And what we've done here, even a couple of years before I got here and the way this program was trending, and certainly where we are now, they know their place will be in the history books and they'll be part of this program.

"They're gonna be able to look back on this in many years…and be proud of what they accomplished and share that with their kids."

Two other Bulls seniors, Cristian DiMarco and Freedom High alumnus Jimmy Jones, tied for second at 3-under 210 with Cincinnati's Davis Baxter. Senior Priyanshu Singh tied for eighth (2-over 215).

Correa led by two strokes entering Tuesday's final round, then birdied the par-4 second and par-3 fourth en route to a 34 on the front nine. Two bogeys on the back were offset by two more birdies.

"I think my irons were the key to play well this week," he said.

"This year I've been so close a couple of times, I just couldn't really get it. Now this week, I just handled the pressure a little better, learned from those experiences and…finished good."

The Bulls, who now have tied the program single-season record with five tournament triumphs, still conceivably could exit with seven. They learn their NCAA regional destination a week from Wednesday (Golf Channel, 5:30 p.m.). The top five teams in each region advance to the NCAA Championship in Stillwater, Okla.

"I'm so happy for these guys," Bradley said. "We've worked hard for this, and for them to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor and do it on a golf course like this and do it in a convincing fashion like we did, it's pretty special."