With Maria Torres leading the way as the individual champion, Florida, No. 5 in the latest Golfstat rankings, looked very much like a national championship contender in a dominant team win in the Briar’s Creek Invitational, which wrapped up Tuesday at The Golf Club at Briar’s Creek in Johns Island, S.C.
The Gators jumped on front with a sparkling 11-under 277 over the 6,101-yard, par-72 Briar’s Creek layout in the opening round of Monday’s double round. They added a pair of 2-under 286 rounds to breeze to their third straight Briar’s Creek team title with a 15-under 849 total.
Florida finished 18 shots ahead of runnerup Campbell, which belied its No. 44 ranking with a 3-over 867 total to take second in a strong 18-team field. Campbell finished up with a final-round 294.
No. 27 Illinois was a shot back in third at 4-over 868 after a final-round 291. No. 16 Miami was another two shots back in fourth at 870 after a final-round 292, No. 39 Auburn was fifth at 7-over 871 after a final-round 292 and No. 75 Michigan State matched par in the final round at 288 to move up to sixth place with an 8-over 872 total.
No. 38 North Carolina might have turned a corner a little as the Tar Heels had the best day of any team in the final round with a 3-under 285 that enabled them to finish in a tie for 10th at 882. In-state rival East Carolina, ranked 52nd, joined the Tar Heels at that figure after a final-round 294.
No. 72 Penn State struggled with a final-round 308 that left the youthful Nittany Lions with a 16th-place finish at 908.
Torres, a senior from Puerto Rico, entered the final round trailing co-leaders Laura Fuenfstueck of the College of Charleston and Olivia Cason of Louisville by three shots. But Torres fired a final round of 3-under 69 in windy conditions to cruise to a three-shot victory with a 7-under 209 total.
Fuenfstuecki, a senior from Germany, had a final-round 75 to claim runnerup honors at 4-under 212.
The Gators also got a strong showing from Kelly Grassel, a senior from Chesterton, Ind. who finished in a four-way tie for third place at 3-under 213. Grassel finished up with a 1-over 73.
When Grassel outdueled Torres for the title at the South Atlantic Amateur Golf Championship, better known as The Sally, in January at Ormond Beach, Fla., it was a pretty good indication that the Gators were going to be tough this spring. Another Florida contender in The Sally, Samantha Wagner, a sophomore from Windermere, Fla., didn’t even make the trip to Briar’s Creek.
Florida got a third top-10 showing in the Briar’s Creek from Karolina Vickova, a senior from the Czech Republic whose final-round 73 enabled her to finish in a tie for eighth at 1-under 215. Taylor Tomlinson, a junior from Gainesville, Fla., finished in a tie for 18th at 2-over 218 with a final round of even-par 72 and Marta Perez, a freshman from Spain, finished in a tie for 22nd at 3-over 219 after matching par in the final round with a 72.
Louisville’s Cason, a sophomore from Owensboro, Ky., finished in the tie for third with Florida’s Grassel at 3-under 213. Cason had matched Fuenfstueck’s start with rounds of 68 and 69, but fell back with a final-round 76.
Also in that quartet at 213 were Campbell’s Annelie Sjoholm, a junior from Sweden who fired a final-round 70, and Miami’s Dewi Weber, a sophomore from The Netherlands who matched par in the final round with a 72.
It was certainly a strong finish for North Carolina, even stronger considering Kelly Whaley, arguably its best player, never got it going at Briar’s Creek. The Tar Heels had opened with a 295, but fell back with a second-round 302 before that 3-under final-round 285.
Lexi Harkins, a junior from Crystal Lake, Ill., was the Tar Heels’ top finisher as she fired a final round of 3-under 69 to end up in a tie for 16th at 1-over 217. Bryana Nguyen, a junior from Columbia, Md., finished in a tie for 33rd at 220 after a final-round 73.
Freshman Brynn Walker, a two-time PIAA champion at Radnor, and Lexie Cloots, a senior from Belgium, were among the group tied for 43rd at 223. Walker had North Carolina’s second-best round Tuesday, a 1-under 71, while Cloots matched par in the final round with a 72.
A final-round 75 for Whaley, a sophomore from Farmington, Conn., left her in a tie for 64th at 228. Whaley qualified for match play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club last summer before being ousted by Andrea Lee, a member of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team, in the first round.
Walker probably got a chance to catch up a little with her partner in two memorable runs in the first two editions of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship, Penn State freshman Madelein Herr, a former Council Rock North standout.
It was a rough outing for the Nittany Lions, who opened with a respectable 6-over 294 before rounds of 306 and 308 left them in 16th place.
Sophomore Lauren Waller, who lost in a playoff to Walker in the 2014 PIAA Class AAA Tournament as a senior at Canon McMillan, was the top finisher for Penn State. A final-round 76 left her in a tie for 53rd at 225. Waller did have a 2-under 70 in the middle round.
Herr, the District One Class AAA champion as a senior at Council Rock North, finished in a tie for 60th at 227 after a final-round 76.
Sophomore Jackie Rogowicz, a two-time District One champion at Pennsbury, finished alone in 69th at 230. Rogowicz got off to a fast start with a 2-under 70, but fell back with rounds of 81 and 79.
Graduate student Kate Granahan, a former Parkland standout, finished tied for 72nd at 233 after a final-round 233 and sophomore Cara Basso, the 2012 PIAA Class AA champion as a sophomore at Villa Maria Academy, finished in a tie for 76th at 234 after a final-round 79.