5 Things: Arkansas rallies for John Hayt title

Ethan Tracy during the 2009 NCAA Championship.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – With winds gusting at more than 30 mph, Arkansas closed in 5 under to erase an 8-shot deficit and win the John Hayt Collegiate Invitational at Sawgrass Country Club.

The Razorbacks, who won their second event of the season, were led by Ethan Tracy and Will Pearson, who both put bad second rounds out of mind and helped Arkansas rally for the victory. Pearson, a freshman, shot 81 in Round 2 before closing in 67, and Tracy, a junior, bounced back from a second-round 78 to shoot 66 in the final round.

Arkansas, which finished at 3-over 867, also won the Cabo Collegiate in October.

“The field here was obviously way better than the one in Cabo and this was probably the biggest win we’ve had since I’ve been at Arkansas,” said fifth-year coach Brad McMakin. “Today was as good a round as we could have put up in these conditions.”

Sebastian Cappelen, a freshman from Denmark, shot 4-under 212, closing in 73 to finish T-2.

“Denmark is very windy, so this kind of weather doesn’t really bother me that much,” Cappelen said.

•••

Florida’s ups and downs

Phillip Choi caputured his first career individual title, finishing at 7 under and as the only player to break par in all three rounds. In his last start, Choi lost the Gator Invitational in a playoff to teammate Andres Echavarria.

Like Cappelen, Choi attributed the week’s solid performance to his experience playing in the wind.

“Growing up in Florida, I’ve really gotten used to hitting these low, three-quarter trap shots to play through the wind,” said the Orlando native. “I think the punch shot has become the best shot in my bag, actually. I even hit a few low, piercing drivers today that stayed below the wind and just kept running.”

Bank Vongvanij, Golfweek’s second-ranked college player, recorded his worst finish of the year (T-15), after placing in the top 5 in every other start. Vongvanij also has two victories this year, including winning the Isleworth Invitational.

“This course doesn’t always do good players justice because the conditions can get so tough – but that’s coming from me after just playing poorly,” Vongvanij said with a laugh. “Every hole out there has the potential to be trouble. You can make a big number anywhere.

“Luckily Phillip is such a good ballstriker, which shows when you can score that well in these conditions.”

•••

Another close call

Auburn has finished either first or second in its past five starts. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that stretch has only included one victory (the Jerry Pate Invitational in October).

“We really didn’t play too bad today –  we didn’t blow up and lose it,” head coach Nick Clinard said. “It’s just hats off to Arkansas. I didn’t even know 66 or 67 was out there today.

“We’re playing really well, I think that shows. We’re just getting tired of finishing second, I can tell you that.”

Redshirt sophomore Blayne Barber finished T-2, his fourth straight top-5 finish, to lead the No. 8-ranked Tigers.

•••

Not leaving empty-handed

As is tradition at the John Hayt Invite, the annual 3-hole challenge was held Monday across the street at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course. The informal event consists of each team playing holes 16, 17 and 18 of the famed course.

Central Florida shot a record 42 (6 under) to win the event. Reid Martin led the Knights, making eagle at the par-5 16th and birdie at the famous island green 17th.

UCF finished fourth at 15 over at the Hayt, eight shots behind third-place LSU.

•••

Homecoming

The Florida Gators were without Andres Echavarria this week, as he returned to his native Colombia to play in the Nationwide Tour’s Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open on a sponsor’s invitation. Echavarria, who is from Medellin, Colombia, will join fellow Colombians and former Gators Manuel Villegas and Camilo Beneditti at the event.

Playing without Echavarria, Florida finished T-6 at 21 over, their first finish outside the top 3 this season. The Gators won their first two starts of the spring, the JU Invitational and their own Gator Invite, in addition to a season-opening win at Olympia Fields.

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