WINDERMERE, Fla. – His final-round 68 secure, his maiden victory in doubt, Bank Vongvanij exited the scoring tent and sought reassurance. Vongvanij’s Florida teammates came forth, and the diminutive Gators senior smiled. “I hope that was enough,” he sighed, looking back toward the 18th fairway at Isleworth Golf & Country Club.
Minutes earlier, while waiting to putt out on the final green Oct. 26, Vongvanij had glanced at the huge white leaderboard and had a most apt reaction on a day when swirling winds and difficult hole locations made red numbers a rarity.
“I saw that I had a two-shot lead,” he said, “and I thought, ‘Whoa, what happened to everybody?’ ”
The race for medalist honors at the Isleworth Collegiate took an unexpected turn, as Tennessee’s Robin Wingardh, staked to a four-shot lead with six holes to play, came undone with two untimely tee shots that found trouble. That opened the door for Vongvanij, who earlier in his career barely could crack the Gators’ starting five. (He has top-5 finishes in each of his three starts this fall.)
By earning his first college title against one of the premier fields of the season – and on arguably the most difficult course the players will face, save perhaps the NCAA Championship at Karsten Creek – Vongvanij helped lead Florida, No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, to a third-place tie as a team, even without redshirt senior Andres Echavarria.
“I came here to watch this event when I was still in high school just to check it out, since it’s such an awesome, pretty course,” said Vongvanij, No. 4 in Golfweek’s rankings. “It almost feels like a pro event, which makes it even more great to win it.”
Of course, such a triumph never would have been possible had Wingardh not stumbled down the stretch.
The Vols senior held a four-shot lead when he dunked his tee shot into the water on the par-3 second, his 11th hole of the day. He scrambled to make bogey, but it only got worse from there: a triple bogey-double bogey-bogey stretch on Nos. 4-6 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard. The runner-up finish was Wingardh’s best result since tying for medalist honors at the 2008 Ping/Golfweek Preview.
“It’s unfortunate,” Tennessee coach Jim Kelson said. “Kind of tough to watch.”
“I missed two shots all day and it cost me five strokes,” said Wingardh, who closed with 75.
In position to win for the second time in three events, Wingardh battled a familiar problem with the driver. With his upper body outracing his legs on the downswing, he tugged two shots left, one out of bounds and another into the bushes. At last month’s Windon Memorial, Wingardh entered the final round just two shots out of the lead, but made consecutive double bogeys early in the round on his way to another 75, falling to a tie for 19th.
“I wasn’t nervous or anything (at Isleworth). I just happened to have a few bad holes,” said Wingardh, who recorded his third consecutive top-20 finish of the fall. “Next time I’m in that situation, I’ll probably win, so I’m not too worried about it.”
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Dinner with Tiger: What’s on the menu during a home-cooked meal at Tiger Woods’ Isleworth estate? Barbecue ribs and beans, with plenty of tips on the side.
As he has in the past few years, the world’s No. 1 player hosted Stanford players and coaches on the eve of the final round of the Isleworth Collegiate. For Cardinal senior Sihwan Kim, the experience always is unforgettable.
“He’s a very nice guy, very personable,” Kim said of Woods, a Stanford alum. “He likes to joke around with you.”
Woods offered advice on how to handle Isleworth’s tight fairways and treacherous, undulating greens.
“He explained how one shot in each round can make a difference,” Kim said. “He always plays to a spot, and doesn’t necessarily play to the pin. For other people who get aggressive at the pin; it’s only one (bad) shot that can lead to a double or triple bogey. He just tries to avoid those situations.”
Apparently that part is still a work in progress for Stanford.
The Cardinal, playing without U.S. Amateur runner-up David Chung (World Amateur Team Championship), entered the final round in second place, four shots back, but combined to shoot 19-over 307 on the final day to fall into a tie for third, 10 shots behind winner Alabama.
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See you next year: Texas Tech and Central Florida announced Oct. 26 that they would co-host the 2011 Isleworth Collegiate.
“Because this tournament is being played at one of the greatest golf courses in America, so close to us, our athletic director thought it was extremely important for us to continue our association,” said UCF head coach Bryce Wallor, whose team hosted the event from its inception in 2004 until ’07.
Texas Tech has hosted the event since 2008, and head coach Greg Sands was excited to re-up for another year.
“We set out to get the best teams in the country,” Sands said, “and we got that this year. It was a great success.”
The eighth annual event will be held Oct. 23-25, 2011.
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Lightning round: While many of the top programs competed at either the U.S. Collegiate Championship or the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational this week, East Carolina junior Harold Varner was making sure he got noticed, too.
Varner torched the par-72, 6,559-yard Kilmarlic Golf Course in Powells Point, N.C., with rounds of 65-66-66 for a 20-under 196 total. He won the Old Dominion/Outer Banks Intercollegiate by nine shots over Furman’s Matthew Broome.
“It was fun watching Harold do his work this week – he was at ease and relaxed, enjoying himself between shots and then was focused in little 30 second compartments around each shot,” said head coach Press McPhaul. “So he played freely and kept his foot on the gas for all 54 holes. This event had been in the works for him for awhile. He’s definitely been given a load of ability and can make birdies in bunches, so he can run away from the field.”
The victory was Varner’s first collegiate title, and sets the all-time 54-hole Pirates scoring record. East Carolina cruised to a 37-under 827 total and a 23-shot victory over Richmond.
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Short Shots: After finishing fourth in each of its four starts this fall, Notre Dame found the winner’s circle with a 20-shot victory at the Saint Mary’s Invitational … Trailing New Mexico State by 11 shots entering the final round of the Herb Wimberly Intercollegiate, Kansas posted an 11-under 273 for its first team title since the spring of 2007. . . . Georgia Tech set two tournament records Oct. 26 at the U.S. Collegiate – lowest 54-hole total (28-under 836) and largest margin of victory (27 shots over runner-up UCLA). It was the Yellow Jackets’ first victory since the ACC Championship in the spring, and junior James White’s first career individual title. . . . Four-time Isleworth winner Georgia, playing at full strength while other teams lost players to the World Amateur Team Championship in Argentina, tied for 11th in the 15-team field at Isleworth. The Bulldogs’ best finisher was Harris English, at T-16. Russell Henley, Golfweek’s Player of the Year, shot rounds of 74-80-74 and tied for 33rd. . . . Oklahoma State tied for fifth at Isleworth, even without U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein. The Cowboys were led by Morgan Hoffmann (third) and Kevin Tway (seventh).