GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After tying for runner-up honors at the NCAA East Regional, the seventh-ranked University of Florida men’s golf team earned the fifth seed for this week’s NCAA Championships, where it will seek the program’s fifth national title. The Gators will be making their return to the par-70, 6,809-yard Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Williamsburg, Va., the site of their win at the PING/Golfweek Preview Invitational in October.
“This is certainly a tournament that can bring out the best in teams and individuals because of the great competition and atmosphere,” Florida head coach Buddy Alexander said. “This is what it’s all about. We’re familiar with the golf course, and we’ve had success here fairly recently, so we feel good heading up there to play.”
Making its seventh-consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships, Florida is one of just four schools in the nation to qualify for the tournament each year since 2001. During that stretch, the Gators have won a national championship (2001) and posted two additional top-five finishes (2003, 2006). UF’s appearance at the 2007 championships is also the program’s 44th, a figure that ties Ohio State for sixth-most in NCAA history.
The 44th edition of Florida’s NCAA Championships lineup will feature SEC Player of the Year Billy Horschel (Grant, Fla.) at the top. The sophomore is ranked second in the Golfweek/Sagarin individual ratings, and heads to Williamsburg on the heels of a first-place tie at the NCAA East Regional. Battling back from a tie for 23rd after the opening round, Horschel carded back-to-back rounds in the 60s to claim a piece of the individual medal in NCAA Regional play for the second-straight year. Horschel, who finished in a tie for 10th at last year’s NCAA Championships, owns three career individual medals; two have come from NCAA Regionals, while the other was earned at Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in October in honor of his first-place finish at The Preview.
“It’s no secret that we need Billy to be good in order for the team to do well,” Alexander said. “That being said, there’s no extra pressure on him. There are five guys on the course, any one of whom is capable of shooting a good score. Billy just needs to play smart golf and have some fun, and that’s when he’s at his best.”
Junior Manuel Villegas (Medellin, Colombia), who captured an individual medal of his own this season, will play No. 2 for the Gators, while classmate Tyler Brown (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.) will compete in the third spot. Brown is the lineup’s only member who didn’t play at The Preview, though his solid late-season play includes a tie for fourth at the SEC Championship. Sophomore Toby Ragland (Jacksonville, Fla.), a veteran of the 2006 national runner-up effort, earned the nod at No. 4 for the Gators, while freshman Tim McKenney (Scottsdale, Ariz.) will play No. 5 in his return to the course where he earned his first collegiate top-20 finish.
“The NCAA Championships is all about putting together four solid scores for four-straight days, and this is a lineup that certainly has that capability,” Alexander said. “We’re not an overly long group, and our golf intelligence is one of our strengths, so we fit the course pretty well. One of the best things about this lineup is that each one of these guys is a fierce competitor, and that’s what you need at a tournament like this.”
The Gators will see a lot of familiar faces in Williamsburg, as they have faced all but one (Louisville) of their 29 NCAA Championships opponents this year, piling up a 63-35-3 (.639) record in those meetings. UF also sports a 42-29-2 (.589) record against Golfweek top-25 teams in the field, of which there are 21. Each of the 30 teams that qualified for the NCAA Championships is ranked in the Golfweek top-50, and 23 of those squads received top-10 seeds at their respective regionals.
The NCAA Championships will feature a four-day, 72-hole format, with each team competing for the first three rounds. The field will be trimmed to 15 teams for the final day, with the top-six individuals not on advancing squads also earning a final-round spot. Scoring will be done live on the Internet at http://www.golfstat.com, and can also be accessed at http://www.gatorzone.com. Please visit http://www.ncaasports.com for more information on the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships.