Maccaglia, Oglethorpe win NCAA Div. III titles

Led by freshman Anthony Maccaglia (far left), Oglethorpe cruised to a 20-stroke victory at the NCAA Div. III Championship at Mission Inn in Howey in the Hills, Fla. From left, Maccaglia, Anthony Amodeo, coach Jim Owen, Eric Quinn, Matt Rebitch and Hayden Jones.

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HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. – When Oglethorpe head coach Jim Owen first saw Anthony Maccaglia as a high school senior during a winter tournament in Tampa, one thing stood out most: his short game.

Fast forward to Friday and that sentiment still stands after Maccaglia took medalist honors at the NCAA Division III Championship, shooting 6 under over four rounds at Mission Inn Resort.

“He’s the best putter in the nation, which he just proved,” said Owen, who also won his second team championship with the Stormy Petrels.

Oglethorpe, of suburban Atlanta, cruised to a 20-stroke victory over second-place Transylvania. It also topped third-place Methodist, which had defeated Oglethorpe three times during the spring. The Petrels, who won the national title in 2009, led wire-to-wire, finishing with a 19-over 1,171.

“It’s almost impossible (to lead wire-to-wire),” Owen said. “The field is so strong at the top of the food chain. It’s almost musical chairs at the top. It’s so hard to predict because everybody is so even. So for us to come out and do what we did, and win by 20, was beyond my wildest dreams.”

The Petrels boasted the top two individual finishers in Maccaglia and runner-up Hayden Jones, who shot a final-round 2-over 72 to end up at even par for the championship. Dex Reese of Illinois Wesleyan and Jeremy Sanders of Redlands tied for third at 2 over.

Much like his team, Maccaglia dominated the first three rounds, entering the final round at the El Campeon Course at 9 under and seven strokes clear of Jones.

But the freshman opened with three bogeys on his first four holes Friday to make things interesting.

With his frustration mounting and Jones just four strokes back, the freshman made a tough 4-footer to save par at the par-4 fifth hole.

“It was probably 4 feet that I played with 4 feet of break,” Maccaglia said. “If I missed it, it was going 8 feet past. That was definitely a round-saver.”

Maccaglia would bogey the par-3 eighth hole to slip to 4 over and Jones would add a pair of birdies early on the back nine, playing just a group ahead of Maccaglia.

But after a nearly two-hour lightning delay, things would turn around for Maccaglia as he returned to the fairway at the par-5 14th. About 205 yards out and facing a right-to-left wind, he hit a 5-wood onto the green – a shot he had been practicing just moments earlier on the range – and would two-putt for his only birdie of the round.

“I just hit a little cut up there to keep it straight, pin-high, two-putt, birdie, and the rest is history,” said Maccaglia, who was 1 under on the back nine.

For a freshman competing in his first national tournament - and with the lead - Maccaglia maintained his focus.

“I was pretty calm today,” Maccaglia said. “I didn’t have the shakes or anything. I think my mind was a little bit racy. The most nervous I was all week was that little short putt on 18.”

It was a tap-in that capped an impressive and memorable performance for the young golfer who was his team's No. 1 player from the second tournament of the fall to now.

“I can’t describe it,” Maccaglia said.

DIFFERENCE MAKER: Jones, a sophomore out of nearby Dr. Phillips High in Orlando, didn’t even see the course when the Petrels hosted the Gordin College NCAA Division III Preview at Mission Inn last September.

Oglethorpe finished fifth at that event, 16 strokes behind tournament winner Methodist, while Jones was struggling to play his way into a starting role. He found himself on the “B” team for much of the fall season and finished T-48 in his only appearance with the “A” squad.

It wasn’t until the spring that he found his game, and concurrently, the Petrels found theirs.

“I had a good winter break back home, practicing and getting my game to where I wanted to,” said Jones, whose runner-up finish Friday was his second straight second-place performance and his fourth top 5 of the spring.

Said Owen: “He probably played more golf over the winter than just about everybody on the team.”

Jones’ emergence helped Oglethorpe transform from a team that finished no better than fourth in the fall into a championship squad that collected three victories and three runner-up finishes in the spring.

“He came out of the chutes in February playing the best of anybody,” Owen said.

Now after a runner-up finish at nationals, Jones is primed for a big junior campaign.

LEE’S FINALE: Claremont Mudd Scripps senior Tain Lee picked up a golf club last week for the first time in more than a month.

Lee, the 2010 D-III medalist and last year’s runner-up, was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right wrist in January and missed the majority of his spring season.

But he couldn’t pass up playing in his fourth national championship, even if he wouldn’t be at 100 percent. Lee didn’t even hit range balls all week, trying to keep pressure off the injured wrist.

“Coming into this tournament, your expectations are still there mentally, but physically, your expectation can’t be terribly high,” said Lee, who shot a final-round 4-over 74 to finish fifth at 1 over for the championship.

All things considered, it was a nice end to what has been a stellar career for Lee, who became a four-time, first-team All-America selection Friday.

“I’ve definitely accomplished more than I wished during college,” said Lee, who will rest his wrist, possibly in a hard cast, for the next month and a half.

“I just wouldn’t have imagined that Division III golf would have given me this many opportunities. I didn’t expect to get that much out of it, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else.”

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