With a four-shot advantage coming into Sunday, Adam Hadwin had about all the comfort one could possibly have while sleeping on a lead. The one problem? He’d still have to navigate the Snake Pit to grab that first win.
It was a white-knuckle finish, but Hadwin closed with just enough to hold off a hard-charging Patrick Cantlay through one of golf’s toughest closing stretches to pick up his first PGA Tour victory. An even-par 71 was just enough to get it done for Hadwin, sealing the deal with a par on the 72nd hole after Cantlay gave ground and stumbled to a bogey. But for a time through the difficult finishing stretch at the Innisbrook Copperhead course, it didn’t look like it would be easy.
In only his second start back after a 27-month absence from the PGA Tour, the world’s 1,419th-best player fired a 4-under-par 67 to nearly win Sunday at the Valspar Championship for his first PGA Tour victory. And what a long road it’s been to get back to a stage he long seemed destined to dominate.
The former UCLA top amateur was golf’s Next Big Thing in 2011 and 2012. He won almost every award and honor available for amateur players through those two years — low amateur at the US Open and Masters, the Nicklaus Award, the Haskins, the Hogan.
Therefore, I’ve given Duke the nod as the final top seed at the top of the South regional. North Carolina ranks fifth overall, which means they’re destined for the Midwest. As the top No. 2 seed, the Tar Heels cannot be sent to the closest available region, the East, since the Villanova Wildcats, the No. 1 overall seed, are already there. Bracketing rules also require that they’re separated from Duke. So it’s a possible Elite Eight matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks for Roy Williams’ squad.
With that determination made and my bubble choices made earlier this afternoon, here’s my final projected bracket of the 2016-17 season.