No. 1 Gators shoot a strong first day

Published: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 12:00 a.m.
After slipping from the top the past two years, Florida's men's golf team is in position to regain control of the SunTrust Gator Invitational.
On a chilly, gray Saturday at the University of Florida golf course, No. 1 Florida shot a 1-over 561 to take an eight-stroke lead after 36 holes.
Alabama-Birmingham is in second place after shooting a 9-over 569, followed by Kentucky, which is 11 strokes back after a 12-over 572.
Saturday's rounds couldn't have been timed any better. Just as the final golfers made their way into the clubhouse, a light rain began to fall. The final 18 holes are scheduled for this morning despite a forecast calling for more rain.
Florida coach Buddy Alexander felt good about his team's lead heading into today, regardless of the weather.
"One of the keys today was our consistency," said Alexander, whose five golfers finished within five strokes of each other. "It's pretty unbelievable."
Senior Camilo Villegas paced the Gators with a 1-under 139. Villegas is two strokes back of UAB junior Chis Cousins for the individual lead and one stroke behind LSU senior Garrett Prather for second.
Villegas shot a par 70 in the morning round followed by a 1-under 69 in the second round.
"It was fun out there," said Villegas, who was playing his first tournament since undergoing an appendectomy in November. "I hit the ball a lot better."
Alexander agreed. "He played solidly today," Alexander said. "He had his best ball-striking day since he's been back."
Gators sophomore Brett Stegmaier is tied for fourth with an even 70 while sophomore Ryan Cochran is tied for eighth with a 2-over 142. Freshman Jessie Mudd and sophomore Matt Every are tied for 20th after shooting a 4-over 144.
Together, it was a solid day for all the Gators.
"It's good to be in first after two rounds," Stegmaier said. "That's a pretty comfortable lead."
But the weather could be a big factor today. If today's final round is played in sluggish conditions, like they were last year, it will even the field, Alexander said.
"If we play in difficult conditions, that will be a benefit for the teams that are behind," he said. "If we don't play (because of rain), then those eight shots look pretty good."
Florida has won this tournament 17 of the 26 years it has been played, including a stretch of 12 titles in 13 years ending in 2001. Florida has finished second the past two years.
"We've got one more day," Villegas said. "We'll see if the rain lets us play."
None of the other 14 teams at the SunTrust Invitational is currently ranked in the Golfweek top 25. Six, however, are in the top 50.

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