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April 19, 2012

Tournament NotesGet Acrobat Reader | Championship Central

COLUMBIA, S.C. — After having a week to prepare, the South Carolina men’s golf team is set to open play on Friday morning in the 2012 SEC Championship in St. Simons Island, Ga. The 54-hole event runs through Sunday on the par-70, 6,898-yard Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club.

The Gamecocks enter the weekend coming off a solid regular season that included a runner-up finish and two third-place showings. South Carolina head coach Bill McDonald says his squad must put together its best three rounds of the season for it to be in contention at the end of day on Sunday.

“The SEC Championship is the best in the country year in and year out,” McDonald said. “The golf course is always incredible and a great test of golf. Our guys are really looking forward to it. I think overall we’ve had a really solid year. These guys are hungry to do something better than just have a decent finish. We’re looking to get in contention and see if we have a chance on the back nine on Sunday to do something special.”

South Carolina will send out a lineup that gained plenty of experience as the year progressed. Senior Wesley Bryan, junior Dykes Harbin and freshmen Caleb Sturgeon and Will Murphy have been in the top five for most of the spring and will be joined by junior Dean Hester, who is in the lineup for the second time season.

Bryan brings the most postseason experience to the team as he is making his fourth appearance at the SEC Championship, with his bet finish being a tie for 10th showing as a freshman in 2009. Harbin played in last year’s championship and finished in a tie for 54th. Sturgeon and Murphy are making their debut at the conference championship after playing steady golf throughout the season. Sturgeon had one top-five finish and two top-10 showings this spring, while Murphy was third on the team with a 73.70 scoring average. Hester made the lineup after playing extremely well in practice and qualifying leading up to the championship.

The Gamecocks have never won a SEC title but they have come close in their 20 appearances. Carolina posted runner-up finishes in both 1998 and 2008 and had a third-place showing in 1999. Eric Ecker is the only Gamecock to claim medalist honors as he shot rounds of 70-66=136 to win the rain-shortened event in 1998 in Athens, Ga. George Bryan IV tied for medalist honors in 2010 before falling to Georgia’s Russell Henley in a playoff. Bryan IV (2008) and Kyle Thompson (1999) also have second-place finishes.

At last season’s SEC Championship, South Carolina finished 10th after shooting rounds of 294-295-298=887. Bryan led the way with a tie for 14th finish, while Caulder Moore placed 21st, Blaine Woodruff finished 48th, Dean Hester tied for 49th and Dykes Harbin took 54th.

Standing in the way of the Gamecocks’ first SEC title will be one of the deepest conference fields in the country, as six teams enter the weekend ranked in the Golf World/Nike To 25. No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Auburn, No. 10 Arkansas, No. 21 LSU, No. 23 Florida and No. 25 Georgia headline the field. Tennessee (44) and the Gamecocks (49) are also ranked in the Golfweek Top 50. Kentucky, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt round out the field. The Gamecocks are 6-16 against SEC opponents this season, with Arkansas being the only school they have not competed against.

The Gamecocks will tee off in the first round on Friday at 8:50 a.m. and are paired with LSU and Mississippi. Live scoring will be available at