SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Holding a one-shot lead on the 18th tee, Fred Biondi put a towel over his head, took a few deep breaths and tried to take in the moment.
A long wait before the biggest tee shot of his life could have derailed the Florida senior. He instead used it to his advantage.
Composed all afternoon, Biondi shot a 3-under 67 and rallied from a five-shot deficit to earn Florida’s third individual men’s NCAA golf championship on Monday.
“I was making jokes with my coach, talking about random things to keep my mind off it,” Biondi said. “Once my time is up, I have to step up, commit and hit a good one.”
He did all day.
Biondi shot 2-under 35 on the front nine at Grayhawk Golf Club despite a double bogey on No. 7. The senior from Brazil was three back after a bogey on No. 12, but birdied the par-4 14th.
Biondi closed with four straight pars, two-putting from 50 feet on No. 18 to finish at 7 under. He joins Bob Murphy (1996) and Nick Gilliam (2001) as national champions at Florida while earning a trip to next year’s Masters if he remains an amateur.
“I just tried to kind of stay calm and stay patient,” Biondi said. “You’re going to make mistakes out there and I feel like if I stay patient, I have a better chance of coming out on top.”
Steelman had a three-shot lead after 15 holes, but closed with three straight bogeys to open the door for Biondi. Steelman shot 73 to finish at 6 under.
Illinois’ Jackson Buchanan just missed a 20-foot birdie on No. 18 that would have tied him with Biondi. He shot 67 to finish at 6 under.
“This season has been phenomenal,” Buchanan said. “There were some ups and downs, but it was great.”
North Carolina earned the No. 1 seed in match play, and top-ranked Vanderbilt struggled, missing match play by nine shots. Arizona State beat Stanford in a playoff for the final match play spot.
Steelman was 6 over through his first six holes at Grayhawk a year ago and had three birdies in four rounds to finish 76th.
Knowing what to expect, Steelman conquered Grayhawk’s Raptor Course in the opening round this year, rolling in six birdies during a bogey-free 64 for the first-round lead. He went 68-69 the next two days, taking a four-shot lead into the final round.
Steelman saw his overnight lead cut in half with a double bogey on the par-4 sixth, but followed with birdies on Nos. 8 and 11 to take a three-shot lead at 9 under.
Then he unraveled.
Steelman three-putted from the fringe on the par-3 16th and took another bogey on No. 17 when his tee shot stopped in a divot and he couldn’t get up and down from a greenside bunker.
That dropped him into a tie with Biondi at 7 under.
After a long wait on the 18th tee. Steelman crushed a drive on the converted par 5, but nearly pushed his second shot into the water right of the green. He left his chip shot about 10 feet short and missed the putt, falling one behind Biondi.
Biondi remained steady while Steelman faltered. He two-putted for par on Nos. 16 and 17, then hit a massive drive on the 520-yard par-4 18th. He watched his approach shot bounce hard to the left side of the green and made a 4-foot par putt for the title.
“It’s a tough, tough finishing stretch here, but I knew if I just put good swings on it and see what happens,” Biondi said.
It worked out pretty well.