Gators' tourney work load lessened with No. 7 rank


Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 12:36 a.m.
Their swings might be a little smoother, their grips a little lighter, in this NCAA Tournament.
For the Florida Gators, the heavy burden of expectations is gone. So is the pressure that comes with being No. 1 and the tournament's prohibitive favorite.
A year ago, the Gators had problems handling their best-team-in-college-golf status in the postseason. After winning a school-record seven tournaments in the regular season, the Gators failed to win their regional and then were a disappointing sixth in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 6 is usually pretty good - unless you've been the consensus No. 1 all season.
"That was the only time I've been the clear-cut favorite (going into the NCAA Tournament)," UF coach Buddy Alexander said. "There is an element of pressure you have to deal with. I was a little uneasy. I wasn't quite sure exactly what I should say or do.
"There's a little something extra there. When you have the best team and have worked the hardest, you want the prize at the end of the year. Anything else is going to be a disappointment."
Alexander and the No. 7 Gators will be on a little more familiar and comfortable ground in this week's tournament at the Caves Valley Country Club in Baltimore.
In 2004, the Gators followed their spectacular season with a solid postseason. They're hoping to reverse the order this year by putting a spectacular ending on what has been a solid season.
With three tournament victories and only one finish out of the top four this spring, the Gators definitely have the solid part down heading into the tournament, which runs today through Friday on the par-70, 7,125-yard course.
"I feel pretty good about this spring," Alexander said. "Other than the Chris Schenkel (Invitational, in which the Gators finished 10th), we've been in the top four in every tournament. And it's been a very competitive schedule. We feel pretty good about our chances."
This year's prohibitive favorite is No. 1 Oklahoma State, which, like Florida a year ago, has won seven tournaments this season and brings the burden of expectations with it to Baltimore.
"I hope they have the same lack of success we did (last year)," Alexander said. "We don't have to win for us to leave Baltimore with a positive thought about our season. If we play well in Baltimore and finish in the top five, I think everyone will look at this year as a big success.
"For Oklahoma State, there is only one result that will make them happy."
The Gators recognize the Cowboys are the team to beat, but that doesn't mean they're conceding their chances of winning.
UF's top four of Matt Every, James Vargas, Brett Stegmaier and Richard Treis has been very solid throughout the season and, at times, sensational.
In the NCAA East Regional, the Gators went from 14th place to second in one day after shooting a 7-under total in the second round. The round was highlighted by a 63 from Every and a 65 by Vargas.
"That's an indication of the horsepower this team has, the capability we have when we've got all the engines on go," Alexander said.
One inconsistent spot for the Gators throughout the season has been the No. 5 position. After going with junior Ryan Cochran in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and senior Duke Butler in the regional, Alexander has made redshirt freshman Manuel Villegas his No. 5 player for the NCAA Tournament.
"I've never played three different guys in three postseason events before," Alexander said. "This is a roll of the bones. This is new, unchartered territory."
Villegas is the younger brother of former UF All-American Camilo Villegas, the leader of last year's team.
"They're two completely different people," Alexander said. "They're worlds apart. They're worlds apart as players, too. I'm not afraid to say that in front of Manny. He knows it. You're talking about a terrific player and a redshirt freshman who's learning how to play."
If the Gators can get some solid play at No. 5 and the rest of the lineup plays well, they like their chances.
"Oklahoma State is the favorite, and we beat them almost every time we played (in the same tournament) this year," Every said. "I don't see why we can't win."
You can reach Robbie Andreu by e-mail at andreur@gvillesun.com or by calling (352) 374-5022

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