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Florida Gators win NCAA golf championship

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Florida placed itself in difficult positions all season, none more dire than its deep hole against rival Florida State in the national semifinals.

The seasoned Gators constantly found ways to work their way up and helped them out when the going got tough Wednesday in the championship game.

NCAA singles champion Fred Biondi beat Hiroshi Tai 1-up with a par on the 18th hole as Florida won its fifth national men’s golf title with a 3-1 victory over Georgia Tech at Grayhawk Golf Club.

“These guys are extremely tough, and that’s what champions are,” Gators coach JC Deacon said. “They find a way to stay positive and stay in the moment and keep doing the right things.”

“Winning this as a team means so much more than winning this individually,” Biondi, a fifth-year student from Brazil, told the Golf Channel.

Florida looked headed for a loss against FSU on Tuesday in the semifinals, only to rally for a 3-2 victory.

UF’s Yuxin Lin won the first match of the championship by 4 and 3 over Christo Lamprecht, but the remaining matches ended until the end with the strongest wind of the week.

John DuBois finished off Connor Howe 1-up to put Florida up 2-0. Georgia Tech’s Bartley Forrester then beat Matthew Kress on the second extra hole after blowing a 2-up lead with two holes remaining.

Biondi had a 1-up lead after a birdie conceded on the par-4 on the 17th, then Tai’s second shot from the left rough on the 18th plugged the greenside bunker. He hit to about 10 feet, but Biondi two-putted from 35 feet to become the first player to win individual and team championships in the same season since Oregon’s Aaron Wise in 2016.

“This means so much more,” Biondi said. “I promised… when I first got to school that I would work as hard as I could and try to bring back a ring or two, and we did.”

Florida’s Ricky Castillo led Ross Steelman 1-up in 18 as Biondi clinched the Gators’ first national title since 2001.

That 2001 team was led by former UF standout Nick Gilliam, who like Biondi also claimed the individual championship that year. The Gators’ other titles came in 1968, ’73 and ’93.

“I certainly am the luckiest guy in the world,” said Deacon, in his ninth season in Florida.

Georgia Tech’s bid for its first national championship fell short, leading to a fifth national finalist, first in match play.

“There isn’t a better group of student-athletes in college, I know that for sure,” Yellow Jackets coach Bruce Heppler said. “They did a lot of good things and they will keep coming back.”

After losing an early 2-up lead, DuBois won his match at 18 with a par after Howe hit his second shot well to the left of the green and shot wide of the green.

Forrester appeared to be in control of his match, going 2 up after his tee shot at 16 hit the flagstick and dropped to 2 feet for a conceded birdie. Kress stayed alive when Forrester three-putted from 25 feet on the 17th, then sent the match to additional holes by connecting to a foot for birdie on the long par-4 18th.

After matching pairs at number 10, Kress hit his tee shot at 18 left into the desert and was forced to go down. He took a double bogey and Forrester won it with a two-putt bogey.

Lin took advantage of Lamprecht’s wild drives and turned 4-up after the birdie at No. 8. A couple of bogeys from Lin allowed Lamprecht to cut the lead to 2-up, but Lin made a birdie putt for win on 14 after. hitting his tee shot into the left rough.

Lin closed it out by running up and down for par from a tricky spot right on the 15th green after Lamprecht’s three-putt bogey.

Steelman struggled early on but erased a 2-try deficit with pars at numbers 9 and 11. He then took his first lead of the match with a birdie at number 12.

Castillo had a chance to win the 15th, but his putt slid down the hole and the fiery senior kicked his ball into the desert. He tied it at 16th when Steelman hit well below par 3 and took a bogey.

Steelman hit his tee shot straight into the desert at the 17th and ended up going down on the 14th hole, causing a bogey that put Castillo 1 up before the championship was decided ahead of them.

“The games were close until the end, they made some birdies on the 17th and we didn’t,” Heppler said. “That was really the difference.”

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By JOHN MARSHALL

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