GAINESVILLE, Fla. – There might not be a hotter player in college golf than Daniel Berger.
The Florida State sophomore, who won the Dixie Amateur by 13 shots in December before finishing T-9 at the Jones Cup earlier this month, shot 7-under 203 to win his first collegiate individual title and lead the Seminoles to a 15-shot victory over North Florida at the Gator Invitational.
“He is playing as good as anybody in the country,” Florida State head coach Trey Jones said. “You don’t even have to look at a lot of scores to realize it. Even when he doesn’t play well, he’s really good. And when he plays well, he’s phenomenal.”
Berger was the latter all weekend at Mark Bostick Golf Course on the University of Florida campus. He shot 1-under 69 in each of his first two rounds on Saturday before closing with a final-round 65 on Sunday.
Two shots back of Georgia Southern’s Scott Wolfes, who won twice during the fall, after two rounds, Berger completed the comeback on Sunday with six birdies and just one bogey. He ended up three shots clear of Wolfes and five shots ahead of teammate Doug Letson and North Florida’s M.J. Maguire.
“It feels really good to finally get my first collegiate win,” said Berger, who didn’t qualify for the Seminoles’ fall opener, the Inverness Intercollegiate, but closed the fall with a runner-up finish at Olympia Fields and a T-5 showing at the weather-shortened Cabo Collegiate.
“I’ve been playing really well the last year. To come out here and win the Gator it just means a lot because it’s a big rivalry. To not only win individually but also as a team, it just makes it that much sweeter.”
Berger got off to a slow start the fall of his freshman season, playing in three events and finishing no better than T-30. He then started putting more focus on practice, and after a lot of hard work and a much-improved work ethic, Berger quickly became a major piece in Jones’ lineup.
Last spring, Berger posted three straight top-20s entering the ACC Championship. He then finished T-7 at conference, third at the NCAA Southwest Regional and T-21 at the NCAA Championship.
And he’s only gotten better.
“This is definitely the highest level I’ve ever been playing at,” Berger said.
Florida State is also playing at a high level. The Seminoles posted a runner-up finish at Inverness and a third-place finish at Olympia Fields during the fall before capturing their first team title since last March. The victory was also the first time Florida State has won the Gator Invitational since 1981, when Paul Azinger claimed medalist honors for the Seminoles.
“So it’s been a while,” Jones said.
Jones said that this was the first time this season that his lineup in Gainesville had all played together. And with two freshmen and a sophomore expected to see meaningful action, there’s hope for big things this spring.
“I think the four guys that we have can take on Alabama or Texas or anybody right now the way we’re playing,” Berger said. “And we’re only going to get better.”
Said Jones: “It is really early. Our goal is just to keep getting better. We were able to do that last year and we’ve done that to this point (this season). I got a group of guys that know what to do and they’re staying focused right now. As long as they continue to improve with the talent level on this team – and they showed that talent level this week – we’re going to have some good weeks ahead.”
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SHORT SHOTS: Florida, who didn’t win its home tournament for the second consecutive season after not losing since 2003, finished fourth at 11 over. The Gators led after 18 holes before shooting 8-over 288 in the second round. Senior T.J. Vogel, who will play in this year’s Masters after winning the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links title, shot 6-over 216 despite battling the flu and being less than two months removed from surgery to repair three hernias. . . . Sean Dale played in his first tournament of the season for North Florida after missing the fall in order to focus on PGA Tour Q-School. Dale finished T-5, shooting 1-under 209. Teammate M.J. Maguire continued his strong play, firing a 2-under 208 to finish T-3. . . . South Alabama shot a final-round, 5-under 275 to finish in third at 10 over.