The Aztecs, who began the day nine shots off the lead, once again discovered more than a morsel of magic in their bag by finishing in a tie for fourth place with California in the stroke play portion of the NCAA Championships at the par 71, 7,292-yard Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
The 10th-ranked Aztecs entered Thursday's round in 15th place, but roared back by matching the lowest round by any squad during stroke play at ever-par 284. San Diego State posted a 54-hole total of 19-over 871 (292-295-284), becoming the first MW team to advance to match play since the current format was established in 2009.
San Diego State is no stranger to comebacks, however, as the Aztecs were confronted with a similar climb earlier this month when they found themselves staring at a nine-stroke deficit after the first round of the Stanford Regional. SDSU finished regional action as the tournament's runner-up at 19-under 821, six strokes behind regional champion Cal.
Two-time defending MW champion SDSU will now commence the hunt for its first national title when it squares off in match play action against the Golden Bears in Friday's quarterfinals. San Diego State and Cal are slated to start match play at 10:45 a.m. PT, with the winner advancing to Saturday's semifinals. The national title will be determined between the top two teams on Sunday.
The Aztecs, who are guaranteed their best finish since 1966, will finish no lower than eighth at the conclusion of play on Sunday, the highest by a team from the Mountain West since 2005, when three MW teams finished in the top eight. SDSU also assures the Mountain West of its first top 10 finish since 2009 when TCU placed ninth.
The Horned Frogs concluded the 2011-12 season after carding a 15-over 299 for the third straight day to finish 27th at 45-over 897.
TCU was once again paced by freshman Julien Brun, who climbed from a nine-way tie for 16th place to a tie for second place at 2-under 211 (72-72-67). Brun, the 2011-12 MW Freshman of the Year, posted the highest individual finish by a MW golfer in an NCAA Championship since UNLV's Ryan Moore captured medalist honors in 2004. It also matched the best-ever showing by a TCU men's golfer at the NCAA Championship, joining former Frogs J.J. Henry (T-2nd, 1998) and Adam Rubinson (T-2nd, 2002).
Brun carved out a third-round score of 4-under 67, which tied for the second-lowest round of the entire tournament and included one eagle and five birdies. He finished the tournament with 13 birdies overall and shared reserved medalist honors with Florida's Tyler McCumber. Illinois' Thomas Pieters secured the individual title after posting a three-day total of 5-under 208.
Meanwhile, it was J.J. Spaun who led the charge for the Aztecs, finishing in an eight-way tie for 13th at 2-over 215 (72-74-69). The senior, who was named the 2011-12 MW Golfer of the Year earlier this month, carded a 2-under 69 on Thursday, including an eagle on No. 1 and birdies on Nos. 11 and 15, to move from 37th to 13th place.
SDSU junior Tom Berry had three birides on the day to post his best round of the tournament by two strokes at even-par 71. Berry, who entered the third round tied for 37th, moved up to a tie for 29th at 4-over 217 (73-73-71). Senior Alex Kang concluded stroke play in a tie for 50th place at 7-over 220 (72-73-75).
San Diego State and California will be joined in match play by Alabama, which finished stroke play atop the leaderboard at 7-over 859, along with UCLA, Texas, Washington and Oregon. Florida State and Kent State finished tied for the eighth position, so both teams will return at 8 a.m. PT Friday for a sudden death playoff to determine the final qualifier.