VIERA, FL – Florida Southern went into the final round of the Panther Invitational holding a 10-shot lead over Barry, a not-insurmountable lead, but the way the Moccasins have been playing so far this spring, it might as well have been. After first riding the hot hand of freshman Jacob Penny on the front nine, 2nd-ranked Florida Southern widened the gap over the back nine for a 15-shot win over the 6th-ranked Buccaneers with John VanDerLaan pulling away from John Coultas to win the individual title by two strokes.
Florida Southern has now won the Panther Invitational two years in a row, and VanDerLaan has been the tournament medalist in each of them. Last year the Moccasins won by three shots over Florida Tech and Lynn, and VanDerLaan was a three-shot winner over Niclas Weiland from Barry. This year, the Moccasins got both the team and individual scoring records along with the wins.
The individual win was the third of the season for VanDerLaan and the seventh tournament win of his college career. The senior All-American now has 18 top-five finishes, though that remains one shy of Coultas, who had his school-record 19th on Tuesday by placing second. They've now finished in the top-five together 10 times in their careers, including three of the last four tournaments, and the Panther Invitational marks the third time they've been 1-2 over the last four seasons.
With their lead up to 16 roughly halfway through the final round, the Moccasins were well on their way to their second win of the spring and third of the season. Those three wins (the Copperhead Championship in mid-October, the Matlock Classic in mid-February, and the Panther Invitational) have come in the last four tournaments, the best such stretch for the Mocs since winning three-of-four in the spring of 2001. The Mocs have also already equaled their win total from last year when their third tournament victory came at the Division II National Championships.
The 15-shot margin was the largest for the Moccasins since they won the 2001 Sunshine State Conference Championships by 17 shots over Rollins. They got there with rounds of 285, 283 and 286 for a total score of -10 (854), the fourth time this year the Mocs have been under-par for a tournament, and the second time they've been at -10 or better. The last time they had two tournament wins with scores that low came in 2010 during one of their national championship seasons.
VanDerLaan and Coultas shared the lead at seven-under going into the final round, five strokes ahead of Florida Tech's Max O'Hagan and Barry's Jorge Garcia. Playing with Coultas and Garcia, O'Hagan struggled somewhat over the front nine and fell out of contention, though he fared much better on the back nine with a -4 and still finished tied for third with an overall score of -4 (212) as well. Garcia, who was also tied for third, made the turn at two-under, which was enough to get within three shots of VanDerLaan, but never any closer. Even four straight birdies on 8 through 11 didn't help much, as VanDerLaan birdied three of the same holes in the group ahead of him.
Coultas though bogeyed three of those holes, which put him at three-over for the day through 11, and in third place overall at that point. He recovered from that tough stretch though to birdie 12, 16 and 18, which got him back to even-par for the round and -7 for the tournament. His 209 was two strokes behind VanDerLaan, who shot a 70 in round three to finish nine-under. Both Moccasins had a total of 13 birdies in the tournament, one less than Garcia and Florida Tech's Gaelen Trew had.
Penny was the first Moccasin in on Tuesday and with a two-under-par 70 that included four birdies, he posted his 10th under-par round of the season, tying him Coultas for second on the team. He tied for 17th at +8 (224) overall. Chase Ibbotson was next to the clubhouse with a final-round 74, though he was even or under-par for most of the day. Ibbotson tied for 20th at +9 (225), which marked the third time this season Florida Southern has had all five of its golfers place in the top-20.
Christian Anderson had a 78 Tuesday and tied for 14th overall at +7 (223). It was his highest finish of the season and best since placing 12th at last year's Bobcat Invitational. Anderson nearly matched his score of 222 from the 2017 Panther Invitational when he tied for fifth, but an eight on one hole Tuesday was enough to knock him out of the top-10.
Michael VanDerLaan, playing in the tournament as an individual, shot a 75 to finish tied for 35th with an overall score of 234. That was third among the 13 individual golfers in the tournament and tied for the best round among those same players on Tuesday.
Florida Southern will have a quick turn-around for its next tournament, the Southeastern Collegiate hosted by Valdosta State. Play begins at Kinderlou Forest Golf Club on Sunday (March 11) and continues through next Tuesday.