May 21, 2011
OCALA, Fla. - The Baylor men's golf team was unable to claim one of the coveted top-five spots, concluding its season Saturday with a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Florida Regional.
Baylor, which took a one-stroke lead through seven holes, shot a final-round 289 to finish the tournament at 5-under-par (284-286-289=859). Baylor's three-day tally is the lowest 54-hole NCAA postseason score in program history, besting its 862 in the 2000 NCAA Central Regional.
Host Florida won the NCAA Florida Regional by a six-stroke margin, finishing 18-under-par. Also advancing to the NCAA Championship in Stillwater, Okla., were defending national champion Augusta State, Kennesaw State, North Carolina State and Arkansas. Missouri's Jace Long torched the course with a final-round 10-under 62 to finish tied for first, earning an individual berth to the NCAA Championship.
"We had the best start we could possibly ask for and we couldn't get it done," head coach Greg Priest said. "The bad thing is that golf is a lonely game; it's just you out there. When things start going wrong, you can't call a timeout. It's a tough sport.
"I hate for it to end this way for these guys," Priest said. "We feel like we've been punched in the gut. Yet with all that happened, they battled back and made it close in the end. We're extremely disappointed. I made some mistakes that cost us. I take responsibility for that and I should have done some things differently."
Senior Payne Gniewek concluded his college career with a final-round 69, tying for sixth place overall at 7-under-par (71-69-69=209). Gniewek's 209 tied a Baylor 54-hole low in NCAA postseason play (Ryan Baca, 2006 NCAA West Regional) and posted the Bears' best individual finish since Jimmy Walker finished fifth at the 2001 NCAA Central Regional.
After back-to-back sub-par rounds, Joakim Mikkelsen, Baylor's leading scorer all season long, shot a final-round 75 to tie for 26th overall at 1-over-par (71-71-75=217). Mikkelsen finished his junior campaign with a 72.35 scoring average - the seventh-lowest single-season mark in program history.
Senior Cody Paladino finished his college career with a 33rd-place showing, carding a three-day score of 3-over-par (70-75-74=219). Paladino opened the final round on a torrid pace; the Kensington, Conn., native birdied five of his first seven holes, including four straight birdies. A double-bogey on No. 8, followed by bogeys on No. 9 and No. 10, derailed Paladino's blistering pace. He finished the back nine with a double-bogey, three pars, two bogeys and a birdie.
Jerry Ruiz tied for 37th at 4-over-par (72-72-76=220), while fellow sophomore Ryan O'Rear carded a final-round 71 to finish tied for 47th at 6-over-par (77-74-71=222). Both Gniewek and O'Rear eagled the par-5 No. 5.
Thanks to Paladino, Gniewek and O'Rear, the Bears were 8-under-par through the first seven holes. However, Baylor hit a snag at the turn as its five golfers shot a combined 11-over-par on holes 8, 9 and 10. From there, Baylor shot 2-over-par on its final eight holes, but was unable to claw its way back into the top five.
"We have the core group coming back, only losing two seniors," Priest said. "We expect to be back in an NCAA Regional with a chance to advance to the finals next year. That's our goal year-in and year-out.
"We expected to make it back to the NCAA Championship this year," Priest said. "We just fell a few shots short, but I think with the guys coming in and the rest of the team coming back, we'll be right back here in this position to get it done next year."
The 2011 NCAA Florida Regional was Baylor's 14th consecutive NCAA Regional appearance and 16th overall.