SAN FRANCISCO — For the third year in a row, the Colorado women's golf team spent the final moments of the NCAA regionals sweating through the dramatic conclusion.
This time, the Buffaloes were able to celebrate when it was over.
Despite a tough stretch during the final few holes on Wednesday at TPC Harding Park, the Buffaloes finished sixth in the NCAA San Francisco Regional to earn a spot in the NCAA Finals for just the second time in program history. They also qualified in 2012.
"More than anything we've just got a really good bunch of girls; hard-working, and I'm just happy for them that they get a chance to go," CU head coach Anne Kelly said.
The Buffs closed with a 1-under 287 in the final round and finished the three-day event at 5-over, 869. Stanford pulled away for the team title, at 8-under par.
UCLA was second, at 4-under, led by individual champion Patty Tavatanakit (8-under).
Senior Brittany Fan led the way for CU, finishing in a tie for sixth at 5-under par. She carded a 2-under 70 in the final round. Sophomores Robyn Choi (1-under, tied for 13th) and Kirsty Hodgkins (even, tied for 17th) also finished in the top 20.
During the past two years, CU came away from regionals heartbroken, finishing seventh — one shot out of the coveted top six spots both times.
"It feels way better to be on the other side," Kelly said. "For two years in a row, that wasn't a very fun place to be."
CU potentially faced the same fate, however, as it limped into the clubhouse after shooting a collective 8-over par during the final five holes. That left the Buffs on the bubble with Oklahoma State. When CU concluded its round, Oklahoma State still had several holes to play.
"I would compare it to the last two years; it's very tense, very stressful, you're just hoping for the best," Fan said.
The Cowgirls took a one-shot lead into their final hole, but played the par-4 18th a collective 2-over to slip behind the Buffs and into a tie for seventh.
"Not that you ever like to see anybody do badly," Kelly said, "but it is kinda nice to see things go our way a little bit."
Oklahoma State finished one stroke shy of qualifying for finals, a painful result for the team that will host those finals, May 18-23 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.
Sitting in ninth place coming into the day after a 10-over round Tuesday, the Buffs came out of the gates sizzling in the final round. As a team, the Buffs were 8-under through nine holes and vaulted to second place at one point.
"I think (assistant coach Brent Franklin) said it best: 'You either come out and compete and be determined or get beat by a team that's going to compete and be determined,'" Kelly said. "They really came out ready to go today.
"All of them had a final last night and I think they're kind of glad that was off their plate. A little bit of relief and you could really focus on golf today."
Choi played the front nine at 4-under, while Fan played it at 3-under. Fan sat at 4-under through 12 and had the individual lead for a brief time before back-to-back bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes.
"We just told ourselves to go out there, be determined and confident," Fan said. "We just went out there and took care of business. That's the mindset that we had."
The last four holes present the toughest challenge on the course, and while it tripped up the Buffs a bit, Kelly said Choi, Fan and Hodgkins made some clutch putts and "really solid pars coming in that saved us."
Ultimately, the Buffs did what they needed to get to the finals for the first time since rallying in the final round of the 2012 regionals at Colorado National Golf Club in Erie.
"I think we definitely should have made it last year and the year before," Fan said, "so I was really hoping and counting on it this year, and I'm glad that we actually pulled through."