Deacon

Men’s golf coach J.C. Deacon said he was happy overall with the way his players responded to difficult conditions out on the course. “We are 100 percent building some momentum,” he said in a release. “When it all comes together, this team is going to be really exciting.”

For the fourth time in as many years, the Gators made the cross-country trek to Portland, Oregon, for the 54-hole Nike Collegiate Invitational.

After a solid showing last weekend in Chicago, where the young squad bested three top-five schools en route to a seventh-place finish, the team returns to action among another stacked field this week.

The Nike-sponsored, Oregon-hosted tournament features nine ranked programs competing alongside Florida, including five top-10 programs: No. 3 Baylor, No. 4 Wake Forest, No. 7 Duke, No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 10 Texas.

For the second-consecutive event, three freshmen earned spots in the lineup, a trend that owes its origins to the intensity of coach J.C. Deacon’s recent recruiting trail and the level of talent he has brought to Gainesville in the past few years.

In Sunday’s opening round, the youthful trend once again proved its value. Florida ended the day with a 2-under 284 total, enough for eighth place and ahead of two top-10 programs.

Freshman Ricky Castillo set the tone for the men, rattling off six birdies on his way to a 4-under 67. The current eighth-ranked amateur in the world is the second-highest ranked player in this week’s field. After sluggish performances in his first collegiate events, he now has consecutive rounds in the 60s to show for it.

Freshman Quentin Debove also strung together a solid score, his 1-under 70 setting him just outside the top-25 individually.

As for the rest of the men, junior John Axelsen struggled to a back-nine 37 en route to an even-par 71, freshman Fred Biondi shot 74 in his first taste of collegiate play and junior Chris Nido was bested by two double bogeys, signing for a 75. 

Though the venue this week — the esteemed par 71 Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club — measures at a meager 6,997 yards it is still uninviting to low scores, and should serve a true championship test of golf this week. 

The second and third rounds will take place on Monday and Tuesday, respectively and begin with 11 a.m. tee times.

Follow Jack Braverman on Twitter @jack_braverman. Contact him at [email protected].