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Auburn senior J.M. Butler leads Tigers to NCAA golf title

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CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) — Auburn senior J.M. Butler polished off a dominant two days at La Costa by winning the anchor match Wednesday to give the Tigers the final point they needed to beat Florida State and capture their first NCAA title in men’s golf.

“A college career isn’t complete without a national championship,” Butler said. “This is for all my teammates who push me every single day.”

Butler never trailed in any of the three matches he played, making him the right player for Auburn if the championship came down to the final match.

He was clinging to a 1-up lead over Luke Clanton of Florida State when Butler holed an 8-foot par putt on the 13th hole to stay ahead. The matched turned heavily in his favor on the 15th. Clanton’s approach to the firm green took a hard hop, went over the back and ran down a steep slope and into the water.

He made double bogey, giving Butler a 2-up lead. Butler saved par from a back bunker on the par-3 16th to stay 2 up, and he closed him out by stuffing his approach to 8 feet. Clanton drove into a bunker and couldn’t reach the green.

Clanton’s last hope was to chip in. He removed the pin, and the shot hit the back of the cup with so much pace that it hopped out. Clanton dropped to the ground on his back, covering his eyes in disbelief.

Butler rolled his putt down to a few inches was conceded par for a decisive 2-and-1 win and the celebration was on.

“I was feeling nothing” Butler said about the nerves. “I’ve prepared for this moment, I’ve worked extremely hard for this. I knew I had to get out of my way and I’d come out on top.”

Clanton was devastated, sobbing as his teammates consoled him.

“I’m just gutted for them right now,” Florida State coach Trey Jones said. “Second place in the national championship is something we’ll look back on as a good season. But we came here to win, and it’s disappointing.”

Auburn was the No. 6 seed of eight teams, easing by North Carolina and then winning a tight match against Ohio State in the semifinals.

Midway through the championship match, it became clear this one would be decided by the anchor match.

Auburn freshman Jackson Koivun capped off a 3-0 record in NCAA match play by chipping in on the 14th hole to secure a 5-and-4 victory over Brett Roberts, and it wasn’t long before Brendan Valdes knocked off Frederik Kjettrup, 4 and 3, to give Auburn another point.

In the opening two matches, Florida State had to work a little harder. Cole Anderson and Tyler Weaver each had 3-up leads with three holes to go. Auburn made them work for those points.

Carson Bacha birdied the 16th and 17th holes and was in position to send the match against Anderson to extra holes until missing a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th. Josiah Gilbert won the 16th hole and had a chance to win the 17th until narrowly missing a 12-foot birdie. Weaver closed him out with a 6-foot par to win, 2 and 1.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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