April 4, 2014
COLUMBIA, S.C. — With the golf world making its way to Augusta, Ga., for this year’s Masters Tournament, the South Carolina men’s golf team is making the same trip but for a different reason.
The Gamecocks are set to close out the regular season this weekend at the Augusta Invitational. Teams will play 36 holes on Saturday and 18 on Sunday at the par-72, 7,142-yard Forest Hills Golf Club.
After finishing runner-up at the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate last week, South Carolina enters this weekend with seven-straight top-three finishes, which is a school record. The Gamecocks will look to win a school-record tying fourth tournament of the season in Augusta.
“Of course we’d always like to play well,” South Carolina assistant coach Alex Hamilton said. “We have played well seven-straight weeks really with seven-straight top-three finishes, which is a school record. We’d love tot keep our momentum going. The guys have played well together. We’d love to go down there and play well again because that’s always our goal.”
South Carolina head coach Bill McDonald will be sticking with the same five golfers who have led the Gamecocks to three tournament wins this season and a runner-up finish last week at the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate. Junior Caleb Sturgeon will occupy the No. 1 spot, followed by sophomore Will Starke, sophomore Matt NeSmith, junior Will Murphy and freshman Ben Dietrich. This lineup has combined for 22 top-20 finishes this season, including two wins and 10 top-five finishes.
This weekend’s field is one of the strongest the Gamecocks have faced this season. Twelve out of the 15 teams are ranked in the Golfstat Top 50, including South Carolina at No. 23. Three teams are in the top 10, with UCF leading the way at No. 7. The Knights have won three tournaments on the season and have finished no worse than fifth in eight events. Eighth-ranked Houston and No. 9 Illinois, the 2013 NCAA Championship runner-up, round out the top-10 teams. Thirteenth-ranked Virginia Tech, No. 19 Texas, No. 22 New Mexico, No. 27 Baylor, No. 28 Clemson, No. 42 Purdue, No. 43 Tennessee and No. 46 TCU make up the rest of the top 50 teams. Host GRU Augusta, Coastal Carolina and USC Aiken, the No. 3 team in Division II, round out the field.
The Gamecocks are making their 11th appearance all-time, including their fifth straight, at the Augusta Invitational. South Carolina’s best finish at the event was a runner-up showing in 2010 with a score of 833 (-31), which is the fourth best 54-hole total in school history. The Gamecocks shot a school and tournament record 266 (-22) in the second round that year. South Carolina’s best individual finish at the event came in 2007 when George Bryan IV tied for second with a total of 210 (-6).
South Carolina finished fifth at last year’s Augusta Invitational with a total of 872 (+8), finishing ahead of eight teams ranked in the Golfstat Top 50. NeSmith was the Gamecocks’ top individual finisher as he tied for eighth with a total of 214 (-2), including an open-round 67 (-5).
First-round play begins on Saturday with a shotgun start at 8:30 a.m. The Gamecocks will be paired with Baylor and Virginia Tech. Live scoring will be available through GOLFSTAT.