GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gainesville was more tundra than swamp, but that didn’t stop Florida from picking up its seventh straight SunTrust Gator Invitational title Sunday.
Overnight temperatures in the 20s caused a 30-minute frost delay at Mark Bostick Golf Course, but when the frost lifted, the Gators attacked.
Leading by 10 strokes heading into the final round, Florida closed with a 1-under 279 to finish at 1-over 841, 18 shots ahead of Florida State.
“The first day was really cold and windy, and after the wind picked up, I knew anyone who finished under par would win the tournament,” said Florida junior Andres Echavarria.
Though Echavarria, No. 20 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, said the cold weather affected the team by one or two shots, it hardly looked that way. All five Gators finished in the top 7, including a three-way tie for third between Echavarria and seniors Tim McKenney and Tyson Alexander, who finished at 2-over 210.
The Gators utilized their home-field advantage. Many players cut the dogleg at the par-5 12th by driving into the adjacent 10th’s fairway and felt comfortable reading the course’s tricky greens.
“We have high expectations,” said UF freshman Phillip Choi, who tied for sevevth.
Expectations should be high. The Gators made up for the loss of All-American Billy Horschel, who graduated in May and earned his PGA Tour card at Q-School in December, by rising to No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings at the end of the fall. (Golfweek ranked them No. 18 in its preseason poll.) Four Gators were in the top 100 of Golfweek’s rankings and the team finished in the top 3 in its final two fall events.
McKenney, who eagled the par-5 12th in the second round, said he was not only proud of his team for the victory, but of himself for rebounding from a five-putt on the eighth hole during the first round.
Echavarria started the back nine Sunday with four consecutive birdies.
“It was my best year at the tournament so far,” he said. “I knew Tyson (Alexander) was going to play well, too.”
Alexander, who tied for sixth in last year’s tournament, rolled in a 30-footer for birdie on No. 9 to take the overall lead at 1 under.
“It’s a putt everyone under-reads,” he said.
His back nine, though, included three bogeys. After losing his tee shot in a tree on No. 12, Alexander scrambled to get up-and-down the long par 5 to save bogey. However, he three-putted 17 and dropped from title contention.
Ole Miss junior Jonathon Randolph made four consecutive birdies on the back nine to shoot 67 and win the individual title, the second of his college career.
“Today played to our advantage – wet and cold,” said Randolph, who finished at even-par 210. “It’s funny . . . we’re one of the most northern teams here. We’re used to (the weather).”
After struggling with his putter and shooting rounds of 71-72 on Saturday, Randolph switched flat sticks for the final round. It paid dividends, as Randolph posted five birdies on Sunday.
The Gainesville trip turned out a bit more eventful than the Rebels planned. After heading to Memphis, Tenn., on Thursday, the team’s connecting flight was canceled and they were forced to make the long, 11-hour drive to UF.
FSU sophomore Brooks Koepka, No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, tied for 15th at 6 over.
“I had a rough start,” he said. “I made a dumb mistake on No. 7 for bogey and I had trouble reading (the greens) all week.“
No. 42 Chattanooga finished third and was led by senior Derek Rende, who shot a team-best 5-over 215. Rende tied for fourth in Gainesville last year.
Former Gator Toby Ragland, who won this event in 2009, is now an assistant coach at Central Florida. The Knights placed eighth at 39 over, with senior Nuno Henriquez (4-over 214) tying for seventh.