After losing three All-Americans and having only two sophomore starters returning from last year’s NCAA runner-up team, Florida coach Buddy Alexander knew he would have his work cut out for him this season.
Most, including Alexander, figured the Gators still had some talent and could turn into a formidable team by the time the postseason rolled around.
You might say they’re way ahead of schedule.
With sophomores Billy Horschel and Toby Ragland, junior Manuel Villegas and freshmen Tim McKenney and Andres Echavarria, Florida surprised a few people with a third- place finish at Inverness and a tie for fifth at the Carpet Capital.
Then, the Gators showed they are the real deal.
Led by Horschel’s 7-under 63, Florida fired a tournament-best 8-under-par 272 Oct. 4 and captured the 18th Ping/Golfweek Preview at Golden Horsehoe Golf Club’s Gold Course, site of the 2007 NCAA Division I Men’s Championship.
The Gators, who were tied for the lead with Oklahoma State after two rounds at 2 over par, finished at 6-under 834, while the defending NCAA champion Cowboys closed with a 4-under 276 for a 2-under 838 total.
“We found out some positive things about ourselves this week,” Alexander said. “I knew this team was very talented, but I wasn’t sure how they would respond under pressure. Truthfully, I never dreamed we would win this early.
“When you win a tournament with a field this good, it tells the guys they can compete against the best and win.”
Horschel’s closing 63 enabled him to claim the individual title at 7-under 203, two strokes better than Georgia sophomore Brian Harman, who closed with a 66.
As impressive as Horschel’s 63 was, it wasn’t the best round of the day. That distinction went to Brigham Young junior Danny Summerhays, who fired a 10-under 60 to tie an NCAA scoring record for 18 holes. And he did so with two bogeys.
The Gold Course normally plays to a par 71, but the par-5 second hole was made a par 4 for the tournament. The course record as a par 71 was 67, held by Jack Nicklaus.