At the end of Round 1 of the Southeastern Conference Championship, the Florida men’s golf team finds itself in a familiar position.
Just off the lead.
On Friday, the No. 8-ranked Gators battled intense wind and on-and-off rain to post a 5-over, 285 at the Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons, Georgia.
The Gators reside in third place alone, eight shots behind Kentucky and No. 3 Georgia, who are tied at the top at 3 under.
Gordon Neale was UF’s top golfer, as he finds himself close to the lead once again.
Friday marked Neale’s third time appearing in Florida’s lineup as well as the second time in a row.
Neale, who came to Florida in 2015 as one of the top-rated junior golfers in the country, was sidelined throughout much of the year due to injury.
Now finally healthy, Neale is starting to make his mark on the team.
The freshman from Dove Canyon, California, fired a 2-under 68 and is currently in a six-way tie for second, two shots behind Vanderbilt’s Matthias Schwab at 4 under.
“He’s just worked so hard,” UF coach J.C. Deacon said of Neale in a release. “We all knew he was a great player, and now he’s showing it on the highest level.”
Sam Horsfield came into the event fresh off a win at the Mason Rudolph Championship on April 3. Horsfield, the No. 3 player in the country who was recently named a semifinalist for the Ben Hogan Award, opened Friday’s round with three bogeys in four holes en route to a 1-over 71, placing him in a tie for 17th.
Sophomore Alejandro Tosti had an uneven day on the hazard-invested Seaside course. Tosti, who competed in the SEC Championship in 2015, carded six bogeys on his way to a 3-over 73.
Freshman Jorge Garcia, who also shot 73, rounded out Florida’s top-four scorers.
Tosti and Garcia are in a tie for 31st along with five other players.
“I thought we hung in there and did a really good job on, obviously, a pretty tough day,” Deacon said of his team.
The Gators haven’t won an SEC Championship since 2011, and they have to overcome an elite field in Rounds 2 and 3 if they plan on capturing the program’s 16th SEC title.
“This team has been showing a lot of toughness lately, and that kept us in the game,” Deacon said. “We’re going to be in the final group tomorrow, and there’s nowhere else we’d rather be.”
Contact Ray Boone at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @rboone1994.
Freshman Gordon Neale hits a ball during Day 2 of the SunTrust Gator Invitational on Feb. 21, 2016, at the Mark Bostic Golf Course.