DURHAM, N.C. - Augusta State's golf team could have played the round of its life in Saturday's NCAA Championship and never gotten within shouting distance of the University of Florida. That's how deep into under-par red numbers the Gators went in the final round.
Florida, tied with Arizona for the lead entering the final round, shot a 13-under-par 275 to win by 18 shots with a 26-under-par 1,126 total.
It was the low round of the tournament by two shots, breaking Florida's own mark, set in the third round.
The Gators are coached by former Georgia Southern coach Buddy Alexander, who coached area golfers Tripp Kuhlke and Pat Lynn while in Statesboro.
"That was an incredible show," Alexander said of the final round.
Augusta State, which completed a rain-delayed third round Saturday by shooting 285, struggled to a 299 in the 18 holes that followed.
Still, the Jaguars finished seventh in the 30-team event, the best finish in school history. In 1993, the only other time the team made the cut in its previous five trips to the championship, Augusta was 13th.
Clemson, which counted a 70 by Augustan John Engler, finished second to Florida. Arizona, the solo leader after two rounds, was third, Georgia Tech fourth, Georgia fifth and Arizona State sixth. After the tournament, Engler was named to the Golf Coaches Association of America first-team All-America squad.
Georgia Tech's Bryce Molder, who shot 73-72-66-73-284, finished his career with the lowest single season (69.43) and lowest career scoring average (70.67) in NCAA history.
Wake Forest was 10th, thanks to a final round 69 by Augustan Cortland Lowe, the low final-round score for the Deacons.
Clemson, which has never won a national title, was also second during Engler's freshman year.
Augusta State junior Jamie Elson was the only Jaguar to break par in the final round, firing a 1-under-par 71 that helped him finish tied for second place individually. Elson, who will be redshirted next season, opened with rounds of 73-65-70 and finished at 9-under-par 279 for the tournament, three behind medlist Nick Gilliam of Florida (69-70-66-71).
Elson is expected to made second-team All-American. He was a third-team selection last season.
"It's fantastic," Elson said of individual finish, "but there's always something you look back on and know you can improve on. It was the 13th hole today."
Elson made a triple bogey on the par-4 hole after hitting his drive in the right hazard.
Rounding out Augusta State's counters Saturday, Oliver Wilson had 74, and Michael Webb and Jayce Stepp shot 77s. Robert Duck's 78 was thrown out because each team counted the low four scores. Wilson made the third-team All-America squad, while Webb was an honorable mention selection.
"We finished very well in the morning (the completion of the third round), playing three under par," Elson said. "Things didn't shape up for us in the final round. It was just one of those days. I don't think we played badly. We just had a couple of loose ones. We had a great week. We proved to a lot of people that we're a team to be contended with."
Augusta State's scores in the first two rounds were 292 and 288.
"Up until today, we kept ourselves in it," Webb said. "We needed a real good round and we had a not-so-good round. It's the best we've ever done in the NCAA's. It will feel better tomorrow. It's a little sour right now."
The high finish earned Augusta State a spot in two elite tournaments next season - the Ping Preview and the Golf World Invitational.
Entering the tournament ranked 14th in the MasterCard ratings, Augusta State could move into the top 10 in the final poll. The Jaguars finished in the top 10 in 12 of their 13 tournaments, winning once, this seson.
"This is a great step for our program," third-year Augusta coach Jay Seawell said. "Both the Georgia and Georgia Tech coaches came up to me and told me 'you opened our eyes.' They kept hearing about us. When you don't play with them, they don't know. They think if you're in a another tournament than they're in, it's a dinky one. We got a chance to showcase who we are against the best and I think we stood the test very well.
"It's going to do some great things for our program because you've got to be able to play with teams like Georgia and Georgia Tech day-in-and day-out to get the recognition and the players on a recruiting basis," Seawell said.
It was an emotional day for Clemson's Engler, who completed his career as the holder of 10 school records, including low career scoring average (71.84) and low single-season scoring average. He shot 75-71-71-70-287 this week to finish tied for 16th individually.
"It was kind of sad there in the scorer's tent," Engler said, "knowing it was the last hug I'd get from coach (Larry Penley) and last 'good playing for the team' I'd hear him say."
Engler broke down in tears when he hugged Penley and his wife, Heidi. Afterward, Penley, his voice cracking, said, "I probably can't talk about it," when asked about Engler.
Later, Penley said "He was the perfect guy to have. He worked his butt off and was a great student. He was always great with the younger kids. You don't replace him."
Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.
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