Gamecocks Look to Finish Strong at SEC Championship
April 14, 2011
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By Wes Todd
South Carolina will send out a lineup that consists of a junior, two sophomores and two freshman, four of which will be playing in their first SEC Championship. Junior Wesley Bryan (Chapin, S.C.) is the seasoned veteran of the group, playing in his third SEC Championship; two years ago, he was the top Gamecock with a tie for 10th place. Sophomores Dean Hester (Dublin, Ga.) and Dykes Harbin (Augusta, Ga.) make their first appearances in the conference tournament after being solid contributors to the lineup this year.
Freshman Blaine Woodruff (Acworth, Ga.) has been Carolina's top golfer this year with a 73.81 scoring average, having played in every event. And freshman Caulder Moore (Isle of Palms, S.C.) has come on strong toward the end of the season, tying for 18th place two weeks ago at the Augusta State Invitational to lead the Gamecock effort.
The Gamecocks have come close to winning an SEC golf championship in their 20 years in the league, posting a pair of runner-up finishes in 1998 and 2008, and a third-place showing in 1999. South Carolina has had one individual champion as Eric Ecker was the medalist in the 1998 event in Athens, Ga., shooting 70-66=136 in the rain-shortened event. George Bryan IV tied for medalist honors last year before falling to Georgia's Russell Henley in a playoff. Bryan IV also tied for runner-up honors in 2008, as did Kyle Thompson in 1999.
The SEC this season is loaded at the top, with six of the 12 league schools ranked in the nation's top 15. No. 3 Alabama leads the way, followed by No. 5 Florida, No. 9 Auburn and No. 10 LSU. Georgia at No. 13 and Arkansas at No. 15 round out the top of the league, and Tennessee checks in at No. 30.
While the top seven teams are a virtual lock for the postseason - and Mississippi, at No. 54, looks to be in good shape as well - the rest of the league is fighting for their postseason lives. Vanderbilt, ranked No. 79 with a 69-74-1 record, must finish in fourth place or better to remain in consideration for the NCAA Regional. Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi State will all likely need to win the tournament to receive the league's automatic bid.
In last year's championship, George Bryan IV tied for the individual SEC title after posting a three-day total of 204 (-6), but fell in the second hole of a sudden-death playoff to Georgia's Russell Henley. The Gamecocks shot 864 (+24) as a team and finished in ninth place overall. Bryan IV held a three-shot lead at one point during his round as he was 7-under for the tournament through 17 holes in his final round. A bogey at the 18th hole dropped him to 2-under for the day, 6-under for the week. Meanwhile, Henley put together a bogey-free round of 67 (-3) after starting the day tied for third place, one shot back of Bryan IV and Alabama's Hunter Hamrick. He was 1-under for the day after 13 holes, about the time Bryan was heading up the 18th fairway. But back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15 got Henley to 6-under and a tie for the lead, necessitating the playoff. It was the second time since South Carolina joined the Southeastern Conference in 1992 that the Gamecocks had an individual earn at least a share of medalist honors. Eric Ecker was the SEC medalist at the 1998 championship.
Carolina will begin the 2011 SEC Championship with an 8 a.m. tee time Friday, paired with Alabama and Mississippi State for the first round. Live scoring will be available via golfstat.com, and fans can receive updates throughout the day by following @GamecockMGolf on Twitter.