Florida claims Southeast title; Long closes in 62
Team winner: Florida, 18-under 846
Individual winners: Patrick Reed, Augusta State, 10-under 206; Mitchell Sutton, N.C. State, 206; Jace Long, Missouri, 206
Also moving on: 2. Augusta State (852), 3. Kennesaw State (853), 4. N.C. State (855), 5. Arkansas (856)
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No surprise here: Playing about 40 minutes from campus, Florida closed with a final-round, 11-under 277 to capture the team title. Making the victory even more sweet was that three Gators – Andres Echavarria (4th), Bank Vongvanij (T-6) and Phillip Choi (T-12) – finished in the top 12 individually. Not included in that group, but perhaps most important, was the final-round performance of No. 4 man Tommy Mou, whose closing 70 vaulted the Gators from third to first on the final day.
“It was huge,” said head coach Buddy Alexander. “The big three are the big three, and I know what I’ve got with them and I know they’re going to come to play. But it takes four to score.”
The Gators entered the final round just two clear of the cut line. Vongvanij, who won three times this season, said he was nervous. A pre-round talk from Alexander may have helped.
“I told them let’s go win the golf tournament,” Alexander said. “In situations where you’re trying to qualify . . . if you look ahead and try to win, you’re a whole lot better off than looking over your shoulder all the time. And in order for us to win the tournament today, we needed to shoot a good round. If we played a good round and didn’t win, there was a pretty good chance we’d still be in the top 5.
“So there was no pep rally or what have you. I just said let’s go try and win the tournament and let the cards fall where they may.”
Where this regional victory places the Gators in the national-title chase is debatable. Alexander admitted as much afterward, saying every team is still chasing Oklahoma State.
“I think everyone projects to be a little behind Oklahoma State, with them playing on their home course,” he said. “And beyond them, I think there’s 29 teams that might win this thing.”
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Stop the presses: Kennesaw State made sure its first NCAA postseason appearance will last a little longer. Led by the inspired play of Jeff Karlsson, who tied for sixth individually, the Owls finished third in Ocala to punch their ticket to the NCAA Championship.
“Right now, it’s just a relief,” said Karlsson, No. 42 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “We set a goal at the beginning of the season to win every tournament and make it to nationals, and for some people on the team, they may have been shaking their head thinking, ‘We’ve never even made it to regionals before.’ But now, we feel like we might as well make it all the way.”
Kennesaw State finished at 11-under 853, seven strokes behind Florida. On the final day, the Owls were carried by Karlsson and Matt Nagy, who also carded a 67. Jonathan Klotz and Chad Wilson each shot 74, and the team didn’t need to count a 79 from Ben Greene, who entered the final round just three back of the individual lead.
“It was nice to be able to pull it off,” Karlsson said. “Now, we’ll get some recognition.”
No surprise, then, that Kennesaw State already is pulling a page out of Augusta State’s playbook. Said Karlsson: “For them to win last year, with only 7,000 students or whatever, it doesn’t really matter how big the school is, or how well-known it is, anyone can do it. So we’re just going to try and make a little Cinderella story out of it.”
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One more thing: It was a memorable final round for Missouri sophomore Jace Long, who nearly single-handedly pushed the Tigers into the NCAA Championship with a final-round 62. His consolation wasn’t bad, either: He’ll be headed to Karsten Creek as the low individual qualifier out of the Southeast Regional.
“It was actually kind of emotional coming up the last few holes, just because I didn’t want our guys to stop playing,” said Long, who shared medalist honors with Augusta State’s Patrick Reed and N.C. State’s Mitchell Sutton. “I was going to try and do whatever I could to help the guys out.”
Behind Long, Missouri finished sixth, just two shots back of Arkansas for the fifth and final spot. That seemed not to dampen the spirits of the Tigers, including the coach, Mark Leroux, who fist-bumped his players and said, “We didn’t get robbed today. We didn’t get cheated.”
Neither did Long. He sank a 100-foot putt on No. 13, his fourth hole of the day, then holed out from 140 yards for eagle on 16. After making the turn in 29, Long set the course record with four more birdies (and a bogey) coming in. It’s not the first time he has gone low this season: Two months ago, Long shot a first-round 63 en route to winning the Jackrabbit Invitational in Las Vegas.
“I started seeing things, my focus sharpened and I felt like I couldn’t miss,” Long said of his final round in Ocala. “I shot 62, but I wasn’t even hitting it like I wanted to; I was kind of erratic off the tee. I was just able to find my way back to the green and make the putt.”
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Short shots: Augusta State looked solid in its quest to become the first team since Houston (1984-85) to win back-to-back national titles. No player was more impressive than junior Patrick Reed, who closed with 67-67 to share medalist honors. “This is as solid as I’ve seen his game,” said Jaguars coach Josh Gregory. ... Two teams that surprisingly struggled in Ocala were Central Florida and Oregon, both of which tied for 10th, 17 strokes back of fifth-place Arkansas.