AIKEN - The sun rested above the trees lining Palmetto Golf Club. The birds chirped between shots. The weather cooperated.
Despite the lack of environmental distractions, USC Aiken and Houston simply ran out of time. The Texas school could not extend a sudden-death playoff to a third hole for one reason: it had a plane to catch.
Officially, USC Aiken recorded its sixth victory of the season Tuesday in the eighth annual Palmetto Intercollegiate. Unofficially, the Pacers tied Houston after 56 holes of competition.
"We're kind of left hanging here," USC Aiken's Dane Burkhart said. "We had our chances to not even go into a playoff. We threw away some shots coming in. It was a tough day for us to close."
The Pacers won their eighth tournament in their past nine tries after recording a final-round 9-over-par 293 for a three-round total of 21-over-par 873. USC Aiken won its home tournament for just the second time.
But Houston will claim the event's championship as well. The Cougars came from five shots behind after 36 holes, firing a final-round 288 to send the affair to extra holes.
The teams returned to the 212-yard 16th hole to settle the competition. Burkhart rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt - calling his first-ever birdie on the hole, "The best putt I've made in years" - to eventually send the teams back to No. 16 tee again. On the second try, both teams shot 1-over-par.
Then as the 5 o'clock hour approached, Houston scrambled to its van to catch its 6:15 flight out of Augusta.
"Things happen in college," USC Aiken's Clint Smith said. "Flights are expensive. It's all good."
After sitting out the fall season due to academic ineligibility, Smith might have regained his old form.
In his bid for his first collegiate win, the sophomore Pacer carded 70 for a 213 total. He finished one shot behind Houston freshman Jordan Irwin (70, 212).
"It feels unbelievable," Irwin said. "I just wanted it more than anyone else today."
Smith just wanted to get his game back after recording a 77 stroke average in two spring tournaments. He opened the event with rounds of 71-72, his two best scores of the year.
"I guess all the hard work the past four weeks and being mad at myself paid off," Smith said. "I was hitting the ball better than I've ever hit it."
Smith posted USC Aiken's lone sub-par final round. Burkhart bogeyed Nos. 11-13 and ended with 74, tying for fifth at 217. Casey Thompson (72, 219) tied for eighth, his first top-10 finish. Scott Brown (77, 226) tied for 25th, while Tyler Rolley (77, 228) finished in a tie for 39th.
Smith had opportunities to tie Irwin late, but Smith pulled an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-4 17th hole.
On the short par-4 18th, he launched his drive just short and right of the green.
Needing a birdie, Smith hit a fast pitch shot from a sandy lie to the edge of the green. He then left an 18-footer for the tie short.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate at Palmetto Golf Club Aiken
6,380 yards, par 71
Team: 873-USC Aiken (292-288-293), Houston (294-291-288). 879-South Florida (287-292-300). 882-UT-Arlington (300-294-288). 886-Charleston Southern (293-288-305). 891-Lamar (299-292-300). 893-East Carolina (293-292-308). 900-Va. Commonwealth (306-291-303), Georgia College & State (298-303-299). 906-Columbus State (299-297-310). 910-Presbyterian (300-296-314). 923-Maryland (306-314-303).
Individual: 212-Jordan Irwin, Houston (73-69-70). 213-Clint Smith, USC Aiken (71-72-70). 216-Ricky Romano, Houston (72-73-71); Stuart Carrihill (71-70-75). 217-Jordan Krantz, UTA (74-72-71); Dane Burkhart, USC Aiken (72-71-74); Jeff Murray, UTA (71-75-71). 219-Casey Thompson, USC Aiken (72-75-72), John Tillery, Georgia College & State (71-77-71); *Bryan Baker, UTA (73-73-73).
Other scores of interest: 226-Scott Brown, USC Aiken (77-71-77). 227-Wes Herlong, Presbyterian (76-71-80). 228-Tyler Rolley, USC Aiken (78-73-77). 229-*James Browning, USC Aiken (74-71-84). 254-*Steven Holtgrieve, USC Aiken (87-80-87).
*-playing as an individual.
Note: USC Aiken and Houston were declared co-champions after two sudden-death playoff holes.