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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Gators overcome six-stroke deficit to reach national championship

An even-par day moved Florida into the top five and punched its ticket to Arizona

Florida men's golf coach JC Deacon's squad punched its ticket to the national championship with a Wednesday comeback
Florida men's golf coach JC Deacon's squad punched its ticket to the national championship with a Wednesday comeback

Florida men’s golf woke Wednesday morning 6-over-par and in eighth place at the Cle Elum Regional in Washington, six strokes and three places behind the cutoff for the national championship.

As teams like Washington and Utah above them faltered, however, the Gators stayed the course and looked up at the end of the day to find themselves still 6-over but now in the coveted fifth position. 

The Gators clinched a trip to the national championship.

Freshman Tyler Wilkes set the tone for the day immediately with birdies on the first, second and fourth holes. He bogeyed the sixth but rebounded with an eagle on the par-5 eighth to make the turn at 4-under 32.

Giovanni Manzoni followed close behind despite a more mercurial front nine. The Italian transfer dropped a stroke on his first hole of the day, but four birdies in six holes sent him to the back nine after just 34 strokes. 

The Florida comeback was on.

While the Gators made their move up the board, teams who teed off in the top five fell the opposite direction. Both of Utah’s top two golfers, senior Mitchell Schow and junior Blake Tomlinson, shot 40 on the front nine. The Utes, who began the day tied for fifth at even-par, ended Wednesday with three 76s, a 77 and no scores under par for a team total of 15-over 299, enough to slip down to a tie for seventh.

Washington had an even worse day. The Huskies ended Tuesday’s second round in third place for the tournament at 6-under-par, six strokes above the top-five cutoff. The Huskies promptly shot the second-worst score of the day, a 21-over 305. The team combined for 10 birdies against 25 bogeys and six doubles or worse. None of their five golfers shot lower than 75.

Florida saw the opening it needed but required more than just Wilkes and Manzoni to get there. Neither of the two could sustain their momentum for the entire round, and both players only made one birdie apiece on the final nine to close with a 1-under 70 and an even-par 71, respectively.

SEC Freshman of the Year Joe Pagdin couldn’t give the Gators the boost they needed after a second-round 71. The Englishman shot a 4-over 40 on the front nine and failed to make a birdie until the 16th hole to finish with a 3-over 74. 

Yuxin Lin tried to jumpstart Florida’s postseason chances, but he made too many mistakes throughout the round. The sophomore closed his front nine with birdies on eight and nine and added back-to-back circles again on the 15th and 16th, but a double bogey on the sixth and two straight bogeys on his final two holes left him to sign for the same score as Pagdin.

In the end, sophomore Ricky Castillo saved the day. The California native found himself 4-over through seven holes Wednesday after a pair of bogeys and an early double, but he matched Wilkes’ eagle on the eighth and birdied nine to make the turn at just 1-over. 

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The Walker Cup team member bogeyed 12 but rattled off three straight birdies on 13, 14 and 15 to move Florida safely inside the cutline. He added a closing birdie for good measure and finished the day with a 2-under 69, the only Gator to break 70 in the final round.

Castillo’s final burst moved him up into a tie for sixth at 3-under on the individual leaderboard after rounds of 68-73-69, the highest Florida finish. Wilkes, Manzolini and Lin all finished the tournament in a tie for 22nd at 4-over, and Pagdin ended in a tie for 39th at 7-over-par.

East Tennessee State waltzed home to the regional title at an impressive 14-under-par, good enough for a ten-stroke victory. Buccaneer senior Sisho Go fired closing rounds of 68-67 to take the individual title at 8-under-par. 

Florida now heads to Arizona for the Division I Men’s Golf Championship at Greyhawk Golf Club. The national championship begins May 28.

Contact Ryan Haley at rhaley@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley

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Ryan Haley

Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.


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