The Florida men’s golf team made a valiant effort early during the final round of the Southeastern Conference Championship on Sunday.
But it wasn’t enough.
Riding the play of freshmen duo Gordon Neale and Sam Horsfield, the No. 8 Gators finished in a tie for third with No. 23 Arkansas at 21 over, eight shots behind No. 3 Georgia’s winning total of 13 over.
Florida went into the tournament looking to capture its first SEC title since 2011. Sunday’s finish at the Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons, Georgia, marked the Gators’ best finish in the event since a third-place finish in 2012.
After the second round, UF coach J.C. Deacon said he wanted to see his players limit the mistakes that cost them during Rounds 1 and 2.
From Neale and Horsfield, Deacon got that.
Neale, making just his third appearance in the lineup, fired a final-round, 3-under 67 — the best round of his career. The Dove Canyon, California, native opened with a bogey-free 32 on the front nine. He would make two more birdies on the final nine, but bogeys on the 12th and 17th holes tempered his momentum.
Neale finished the tournament in fourth alone at plus 1, four shots behind Georgia’s Lee McCoy who shot a 1-under 69 in the final round to capture the individual title.
"He showed how big-time of a player he can be and how bright his future is," Deacon said of Neale in a release.
A bogey on the first hole, a short par-4, did little to derail Horsfield’s round. Horsfield went on to make three-straight birdies from holes 4 to 6. He carded three more birdies on the back nine to finish the day with a 1-under 69, leaving him in a tie for fifth at plus 2.
Hazards and relentless wind eventually took their toll, though.
Alejandro Tosti couldn’t get anything going in Round 3. After making four birdies in Round 2, the sophomore failed to make a birdie during the final round. Tosti made three bogeys en route to a 3-over 73 to finish in a tie for 13th.
Jorge Garcia couldn’t build any momentum, struggling to stay relevant all week.
Garcia shot a 3-over 38 on the opening nine. He would limp into the clubhouse with three more bogeys and a double to cap off his first SEC Championship with a final-round 77. He finished the tournament in a tie for 38th.
Junior Ryan Orr didn’t fare any better. Orr shot 5 over through his last five holes, including a quadruple bogey on the par-4 16th, and finished in a tie for 52nd.
The Gators will have a month to figure things out. Florida returns to action on May 16 when it tees off in the NCAA Regional Championship.
Freshman Gordon Neale hits a ball during Day 2 of the SunTrust Gator Invitational on Feb. 21, 2016, at the Mark Bostic Golf Course.