Banged-up Gators take early lead in Ocala

Banged-up Gators take early lead in Ocala

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Banged-up Gators take early lead in Ocala

OCALA, Fla. – Tyler McCumber fractured his right middle finger. Andres Echavarria needed IV fluids in the emergency room. And Florida coach Buddy Alexander? Well, he was just worried.

“I’ve got to admit,” Alexander said Thursday at the NCAA Southeast Regional, “I was a little nervous going into this week.”

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That’s to be expected after McCumber, the No. 4 man, broke a bone while going down a water slide during graduation week. (He’s questionable for the NCAA Championship, if Florida advances.) And last week, Echavarria, the redshirt senior who won twice this season – including last month’s SEC Championship – came down with a nasty case of food poisoning. He was in the hospital early Sunday morning, he couldn’t play a practice round with the team Wednesday, and he was a late addition to the starting lineup here in Ocala. “I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go,” he said.

Echavarria’s first-round 71 helped provide some comfort, surely, for the Gators (6-under 282) are in first place, one stroke ahead of Arkansas, after the opening round at Golden Ocala Golf Club, about a 45-minute drive from Gainesville.

Which, of course, is where all this trouble started.

Last week, Echavarria dined with his girlfriend at one of his favorite restaurants, Maui Teriyaki, a joint he’s frequented “50, maybe 100 times.” On Friday, he left for Vero Beach to play a practice round at the course that will host a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open. After the round, he began to feel ill. When he lost color in his face, and when he began sweating, and when he felt dehydrated, he was admitted to an emergency room in Gainesville. “Oh, man,” Echavarria said. “It was really bad.”

Thinking he had recovered, Echavarria played nine holes Tuesday, but the symptoms (vomiting and diarrhea) returned that night.

“Wednesday, after waking up, I was thinking I was going to get some toilet paper and some baby wipes for the course, man,” he said. “It was that bad.”

Funny thing, too, because Echavarria came down with flu-like symptoms before the start of SECs – and he ended up winning. “Sometimes,” he said, “you go on without expectations and everything kind of goes the right way.”

After a few nerve-fraying weeks, his coach certainly wouldn’t mind that.

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