REUNION, Fla. – John Coultas made it two wins in a row Tuesday but had to defeat teammate John VanDerLaan in a playoff before he could lift the trophy; and though Florida Southern finished second to Lynn University in the team standings, the Moccasins are looking forward to a return trip to the Watson Course at Reunion in May. Finishing play at the NCAA Division II National Preview Tournament with a 15-under par 849, 2nd-ranked Florida Southern ended up four shots behind #4 Lynn, but got a 1-2 finish from its two returning All-Americans to finish six shots ahead of top-ranked West Florida.
With nine of the top 11 ranked teams in the country participating at the site of this year's Division II National Finals, the tournament lived up to its name with seven teams finishing at 2-under par or better and a different team turning in the best score in each round. In round one it was Florida Southern with a 278 (-10), before Lynn and 9th-ranked Lee University each had a 280 (-8) in round two. Tuesday it was #7 Saint Leo's turn with a 283 (-5). West Florida was never far behind either and matched Lynn and Florida Southern with three rounds of even-par or better. Those were the only three teams that accomplished that.
Coultas and VanDerLaan finished the third round with an 11-under par 205 and were joined in a 3-man playoff by Saint Leo's Hugo Bernard, who was last year's Division II individual national champion. Going to the par-5 No. 1 hole for a playoff, Coultas won the title with a birdie to give him his second win in as many tournaments. Two weeks ago he also won the Saint Leo Invitational in a playoff after shooting a 3-round score of 208. He's the first Moccasin to win back-to-back regular season tournaments since Tim Crouch in the spring of 2013. Crouch also won the regional and national tournaments back-to-back one year later.
The 11-under par scores by Coultas and VanDerLaan were also the best by a Moccasin golfer since Crouch won the 2012 Matlock Collegiate Classic with a 16-under par 200 in 2013. That was also the last time the Moccasins had two golfers finish at 11-under or better, with Case Gard joining Crouch in that department.
Coultas began the day with a 2-stroke lead over VanDerLaan and West Florida's Henry Westmoreland, who ended up in fifth place with an 8-under par 208. He started off with back-to-back birdies on 1 and 2 before VanDerLaan closed the gap with three straight birdies on 3, 4, and 5. After Coultas bogeyed two holes on the back nine, VanDerLaan was able to take the lead with a birdie on 13, but Coultas would later catch him with a birdie on 17.
Meanwhile, Bernard birdied five of his final seven holes to catch both Moccasin golfers with a 6-under par 66 for the day, which forced the 3-way playoff.
Finishing two strokes behind the trio at the top was Lee's Shea Sylvester at 9-under par 207. Sylvester and VanDerLaan were the only golfers in the field who had scores in the 60's for all three rounds.
The team championship was just as tight, with Lynn and Florida Southern back and forth all day after they were separated by only one shot coming into the final round. Both teams played so well that even though West Florida was within striking distance, the Argonauts could never catch either the Knights or Moccasins.
After both teams had completed 11 holes, Lynn and Florida Southern were deadlocked, but the Knights pulled ahead on the strength of three birdies on the final four holes by Felix Kvarnstrom, and an eagle by Carlos Bustos on the par-5 No. 17. Neith golfer was even Lynn's best of the day, with Mateo Gomez shooting a two-under par 70 to claim that spot. Kvarnstrom and Martin Cancino each had a 71 for the Knights and Bustos had a 73.
In addition to a 69 from VanDerLaan and a 71 from Coultas, the Moccasins had three 74's from Christian Anderson, Chase Ibbotson and Grant Lovell. For the second consecutive round, Anderson had a strong finish with three birdies on his final four holes, which gave him a final score of 3-over par 219 and tied for 31st place. Ibbotson was only one stroke behind him with a 220 and tied for 41st place. The freshman was two-under for his final nine holes Tuesday. Lovell had a 9-hole stretch where he was 1-under and had a 229 in his first tournament of the season.
Florida Southern will play in one more tournament this fall, heading south for next week's Guy Harvey Invitational hosted by Nova Southeastern, October 10-11 at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens.