April 5, 2013
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The South Carolina men's golf team will open play in its final tournament of the regular season on Saturday when it tees off at the Insperity Augusta State Invitational in Augusta, Ga.
The Gamecocks will play 36 holes on Saturday and 18 on Sunday on the par-72, 7,142-yard layout at Forest Hills Golf Club. With this weekend and a dual match at Georgia Tech being all that remains before postseason play, South Carolina associate head coach Don Hill is looking for the Gamecocks to close out the season in strong fashion.
"It's going to be a very good test for us," Hill said. "I think it will give us a good idea of where we are going into the SEC Championship. This week is a NCAA type field. This is such a storied event. There's a reason teams come from all over the country to play in this event."
Carolina is coming off a ninth-place finish at the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate last week. The Gamecocks played through brutal conditions to shoot rounds of 316-298-291=905 (+41). Freshman Matt NeSmith earned his third straight top-10 finish as he tied for seventh with a total of 219 (+3) to lead the way.
For the first time in three tournaments, the Gamecocks will be playing with a somewhat different lineup. Senior Dykes Harbin, sophomore Caleb Sturgeon and NeSmith will hold down the top three spots for the ninth straight week. Sophomore Sean Kelly and freshman Will Starke will give Carolina a different look in the fourth and fifth spots.
Harbin, Sturgeon and NeSmith have combined for 16 top-20 finishes this season, including two tournament victories and 11 top-10 showings. Kelly, who is making his third appearance for the Gamecocks, has a stroke average of 75.88. He finished tied for fifth at the Savannah Quarters Individual. Starke is also making his third appearance in the lineup. His stroke average of 74.00 ranks fifth in the SEC among golfers who have played less than 10 rounds. Starke's best tournament came in the fall, as he finished second at the Wendy's Kiawah Classic to help lead the Gamecocks to their first tournament win since 2009.
"Our core three guys - Dykes, Caleb and Matt - have played great golf for us all year," Hill said. "They have really been the anchors to the team. Those three guys get it done week in and week out. I'm really happy to see Sean get a chance. He's struggled with some injuries. He's very healthy now and is playing some good golf. He just shot some really low rounds in qualifying. Will Starke is a very, very talented golfer. He's at the point now where he knows what is expected of him and knows what he has to do when he gets on the road."
Carolina is making its fourth straight trip and 10th overall to the Augusta State Invitational. The Gamecocks' 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. Carolina posted a school and tournament record 266 (-22) in the second round that year. The Gamecocks' best individual finish at the event was a tie for second finish by George Bryan IV in 2007 with scores of 66-72-72=210 (-6).
At last year's tournament, South Carolina posted rounds of 284-285-289=858 (-6) to finish in a tie for seventh in the 16-team field. Harbin fired a final-round 68 (-4) to finish in a tie for 12th with a total of 210 (-6).
This year's field features 15 teams, including 12 ranked in the Golfstat Top 50. It also includes USC Aiken, the No. 3 team in Division II. Sixth-ranked Texas is back to defend its title and will be joined by Augusta State, No. 40 Baylor, No. 39 Central Florida, No. 29 Clemson, No. 50 Coastal Carolina, No. 17 Georgia, No. 25 Houston, No. 24 Illinois, Purdue, No. 16 SMU, No. 27 Tennessee and No. 37 Virginia Tech. The No. 35 Gamecocks are 4-8 in head-to-head matchups against teams in this year's field, including a 2-1 mark against rival Clemson.
First-round play will get underway on Saturday with a shotgun start at 8:30 a.m. The Gamecocks will be paired with Augusta State and Georgia for the first two rounds. Live scoring will be available through Golfstat.
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