LAKELAND – The 2017 Division II National Tournament is still roughly three months away, but it's a good bet that whichever team wins it was playing in this year's Lady Moc Classic. Since that was the case in 14 of the last 16 years, that's really not a stretch, but this year's 18-team field put on an impressive show that left no doubt who the best teams in the country are. Headlining that list was 2nd-ranked Barry University, which won the 2017 Lady Moc Classic by squeezing out a 3-shot win over No. 8 Saint Leo, with No. 6 Rollins five shots back at the end of play.
The Buccaneers, who have played in this tournament every year since 2003 won their first Lady Moc Classic after finishing fourth on four different occasions. One of those was last year when Lynn defeated Rollins on a tie-breaker, which means a school from the Sunshine State Conference has won four the last five Lady Moc Classics, with four different teams doing it during that span. With Saint Leo finishing second this year for its best finish in 12 appearances, it also means two additional SSC schools have been the tournament runner-up at least once in the last six years.
Behind a 69 from individual co-champion Marie Coors, Saint Leo made a run at Barry in the final round with a third-round best 298, but it wasn't enough to catch the Buccaneers who won their third consecutive tournament going back to the fall semester. The Bucs could now make a legitimate claim to the #1 position in the Golfstat rankings after rounds of 298, 295 and 302 in which their highest counting score was a 78. Oddly enough though, Saint Leo didn't even count a score that high in its three rounds of 302, 298 and 298, and if not for an 80 in the first round from one of its counters, Rollins might have been the team holding the trophy on Tuesday afternoon.
Florida Southern will surely climb the rankings too. The Moccasins came into play sitting at No. 37, but finished eight shots behind Barry in fourth place with a 903. That score would have been good enough to win the tournament in 2015 and 2016, and would have made the Moccasins at least runner-up in all but three of the previous 15 Lady Moc Classics. (One year was rained out and not played.) Even eighth-place Flagler's score would have put the Saints among the top three teams in 13 previous Lady Moc Classics.
Conditions weren't always favorable on Tuesday either with the wind picking up to challenge the golfers after some very good scores on Monday. It didn't seem to matter, as one golfer tied the single-round scoring record, two golfers broke the tournament scoring record, and another, Florida Southern freshman Amanda Gartrell tied the old record as she closed out a strong performance that saw her finish in third place with an even-par 216.
Even though Coors shot a 69 for Saint Leo, the best round of the day belonged to Tuan-Yu Chiang from Seminole State, whose four-under par 68 equaled a scoring record that hadn't been seen since 2012 when Florida Southern's M.J. Audette and Bradley's Thea Hedemann both had that score in the final round at Eaglebrooke. Chiang's 68 was only the fourth time in tournament history a golfer had that score and allowed her to share the 2017 Lady Moc Classic individual title with Coors. Prior to Tuesday, no golfer had been able to break 70 in the first three years the tournament was held at Grasslands.
Chiang (74-72-68) and Coors (72-73-69) each had a two-under par 214 for the tournament, making them the first golfers to ever finish under par in the Lady Moc Classic. Though officially co-champions, Chiang was awarded the trophy based on a match-of-cards tie-breaker that saw her play 16, 17, and 18 at two-under par while Coors was one-over. It was the second time in the last three years that an individual tie was broken in such a fashion. Two other ties, in 2011 and 2013, were decided by a one-hole playoff.
With her even-par 216 (73-72-71), Gartrell finished two strokes behind the co-champions with a score that would have equaled the previous tournament scoring record set by Lynn's Samantha Smolen in 2014. She had a tournament-high 11 birdies. First- and second-round leader Tilda Larsson of Barry finished fourth with a 217 (70-73-74), and Paige Lyle of Rollins was fifth with a 220 (73-71-76). That put Gartrell, a freshman from Lakeland, in good company with Larsson No. 1, Coors No. 4, and Lyle No. 18 in the Golfstat individual rankings. She also beat seven others who were ranked in the top-25. Gartrell had the highest finish for a Florida Southern golfer at the Lady Moc Classic since Audette was second in 2012.
Sophomore Madison Wetzel, who was eighth as their top golfer at last year's event, was tied for 17th this year with a 227 (75-76-76). Wetzel's score was even better than it appeared. The par-5 No. 18, which gave the golfers a world of trouble during the entire tournament, tripped her up on Tuesday where she was forced to take a nine. Wetzel was even over the other 17 holes.
As it turned out, No. 18 was responsible for 32 triple-bogeys or worse over the three rounds of golf, and the par-four No. 17 had 21 of them. That represented 45 percent of those type scores, and no other hole had more than nine.
Florida Southern's third-place golfer was fifth-year senior Shannon McKew, who turned in a 75 on Tuesday after rounds of 76 and 80 on Monday. Her total of 231 put her in a tie for 31st. Junior Abbey Williams and sophomore Tori Higgins tied for 40th with scores of 234, and Williams was the Mocs' fourth counter in the final round with a 79. No other team had a better finish from its fifth golfer than Florida Southern.
Florida Southern's three individual golfers had nearly identical scores to each other, with senior Britta Bernth and junior Anna Millet turning in a 240 that had them tied for 54th, and junior Kolby McWilliams carding a 241 that had her tied for 58th. Bernth had rounds of 79 and 76 on Monday as their best golfer playing as an individual at the end of day one; Millet had the best single-round score among them with a 75 in round two; and McWilliams had the trio's best score on Tuesday with a 77.
Florida Southern's next tournament will be March 13-14 at the Peggy Kirk Bell Invitational in Winter Springs, hosted by Rollins.