HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, FLA. – Michael VanDerLaan's albatross on No. 14, and Chase Ibbotson's eagle on the same hole a little bit later may not have been the literal difference in Florida Southern's advancing score to the national finals, but for a long portion of Saturday, it looked like it would be. Even so, VanDerLaan's incredibly clutch shot in the final stages of the final round gave the 8th-ranked Moccasins a jolt, and they rode that all the way to a fourth-place finish at the NCAA South/Southeast Super Regional that sends them to the Division II National Championships for the 40th time.
VanDerLaan, who had been battling illness all week, led the Mocs with a 72 in his best round of the tournament, Johnny Tucker shot a 74, and Christian Anderson had a 77. Ibbotson, who played through an ankle injury, and Max Coutsolioutsos each had a 78. That gave Florida Southern a 301 team score that was good enough to keep Florida Southern in the top seven by 10 shots. That was where teams needed to finish in order to reach the national championships, and when the day began, there were a dozen teams either in those positions or within five shots.
At the end of it, 2nd-ranked Lynn was crowned the South/Southeast Super Regional champion with a winning score of +5, putting the defending national champs nine shots ahead of 3rd-ranked West Florida. Top-ranked Barry finished third at +19, 14 shots behind the winning Knights.
Florida Southern was fourth at +30, and 10th-ranked Lincoln Memorial and South Carolina-Aiken tied for fifth at +31. 17th-ranked Saint Leo claimed the final spot by climbing four places on the final day to finish with a +37, putting the Lions three shots ahead of Carson-Newman. The final teams on the course, including Saint Leo, barely finished the round before the skies opened shortly after 8 p.m. with another horn sounding to clear the course for severe weather immediately after the last hole was completed.
Play had already been stopped once before at 5:12 due to lightning in the area, forcing all of the contenders into a waiting game for more than 90 minutes. The Moccasins had nearly completed their round, with only Ibbotson and Anderson still on the course with three holes to play between them. Those teams that teed off in the latest time slots, however, still had all of their players on the course, some with as many as five holes to complete. At that point, Florida Southern was in the same place it had started the day, in fourth place, though only four shots in the clear.
Lynn, West Florida, and Barry were able to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the field, but the race for the final four positions was extremely tight. At different times during the day, as many as four teams were tied for fifth, or three teams were tied for sixth. Positions changed hands frequently and though the golfers themselves may not have known it, every shot could have been the one that put a team in, or knocked them out.
One such shot was hit by VanDerLaan on the par-5 No. 14, a hole on which the Mocs had great success in the tournament. The Mocs had played that hole at -2 in each of the first two rounds, with Anderson converting an eagle on day one. VanDerLaan did him one better, drilling his second shot from 204 yards straight at the pin and into the cup for an albatross, or double-eagle, that was more critical at the time than he realized. The Mocs had slipped to ninth before he hit that shot, and combined with his birdie on 13, it was enough to put them back in the top seven. They never dropped out the rest of the day.
The Mocs weren't even close to being finished on 14 either. VanDerLaan was only the first Moccasin to pass through that hole, and Tucker followed right behind him with a birdie. Coutsolioutsos also birdied the hole and Ibbotson added an eagle. The Mocs would throw out one of their scores at the end of the round, but still played 14 at -6 as a team.
VanDerLaan finished with the Mocs' best score of the day at even-par 72, doing most of his damage on holes 6 through 14 where he was three-under. Tucker was right there with him most of the day though, and went into the final hole at even-par before a tee shot into the woods forced him to take a double-bogey. His final-round 74 included a team-high five birdies, however, including four in the span of six holes during one stretch, keeping the Mocs above water.
Coutsolioutsos, who was third off the tee Saturday afternoon, had a 78 that included an even-par 37 on the back nine. With the aid of his birdie on 14, Coutsolioutsos played the final seven holes at one-under.
Ibbotson had some rough spots on the front nine where a lot of the golfers ran into trouble during the tournament, but on the back nine, he settled in to go one-under. That included his eagle on 14, and birdies on 10 and 17, the other two par-5s on the back side of the course. Ibbotson, in fact, birdied or eagles all four of the par-5s Saturday, playing those holes at -5.
Anderson closed things out for Florida Southern, bringing the Mocs home with a flawless finish that included seven straight pars or birdies to end the round. That was the longest streak of the day for the Moccasins.
Anderson was also the Moccasins' top performer in the tournament, tying for 18th place with a 223 (+7). Tucker tied for 28th with a 225 (+9), VanDerLaan tied for 39th with a 227 (+11), and Ibbotson and Coutsolioutsos tied for 46th with a 228 (+12).
Lynn's Giovanni Manzoni and Lincoln Memorial's Sam Broadhurst tied for first, and with no playoff possible, Manzoni was declared the individual champion on a scorecard tiebreaker. They finished the tournament at three-under-par 213. There was a three-way tie for third between Barry's Jorge Garcia, Nova Southastern's Juan Jose Guerra, and Georgia Southwestern's Vincent Norman, who all shot two-under-par 214. West Florida's Christian Bosso was the only other golfer under par for the tournament at -1.
Guerra and Norman earned the South/Southeast Super Regional individual bids to the national finals by virtue of their finish.
The NCAA Division II National Finals run May 20-24 in Daniels, West Virginia at the Resort at Glade Springs. The first three days are comprised of stroke play before the top eight teams move on to medal play. The quarterfinals and semifinals are Thursday, May 23, and the national championship match is Friday, May 24.