Tallahassee, FL - Daniel Berger closed Saturday’s second round of the Seminole Intercollegiate with three consecutive birdies to preserve Florida State’s one-shot lead over Mississippi State heading into Sunday’s finale at the Southwood Golf Course.
Patience, poise and persistence paid off for Berger and the rest of FSU coach Trey Jones’ 17th-ranked men’s golf team, which finished the day the way it began – one shot better than No. 36 Mississippi State – and positioned to post its second victory of the season.
That required all of the aforementioned attributes as the Seminoles were sluggish early, lost their lead over the Bulldogs and saw No. 50 Coastal Carolina make a charge toward the top of the team scoring.
“It wasn’t the start anyone was looking for when we counted a triple-bogey and a double-bogey in our first seven holes, but I give our guys credit,” Jones said. “The two guys who were struggling the most were the guys who were low yesterday. They held their composure and were tough and came back with productive rounds. …
“At some point in time today someone told me we were six or seven back. We played pretty well on the way in.”
Berger countered a triple-bogey at No. 2 with five birdies, including his finishing flurry, to vault the Seminoles back to the front. His second-round 69 leaves him at 8-under for the tournament and in a share of the lead with Coastal Carolina’s Sebastian Soderberg. Soderberg fired a 7-under, 65 on Saturday, matching the low round of the tournament.
The Seminoles counted senior Doug Letson’s 2-under 70, Joaquin Lolas’ even par 72 and a one-over 73 by Hank Lebioda toward the team score on a day when the wind kicked up and the competition didn’t lay down against the host team. Lolas’ even par round came despite a double-bogey at No. 7, which negated a pair of early birdies.
Mentally managing those early miscues were critical.
“You’re only as good as your next hole, so for me bouncing back and playing 5-under in the last 16 holes was pretty good,” said Berger, who blew his tee shot at No. 2 out of bounds. “A year-and-a-half ago I probably would have turned in a 77, but I know I’m good enough to just go out there and grind. That’s what I did. The wind kind of picked up on the back nine and I kind of hung in there and gave myself opportunities.”
Berger worked his way back to even par with a birdie at No. 11, a 335-yard, par-4. “I knocked my drive down the right side 20 yards short of the green,” he said. “There’s really not much green to work with there and I hit a nice little flop shot to about seven feet and made the putt.”
He played rock-solid golf from there until he reached the 541-yard, par-five at No. 16, where he was on the green in two and two-putted from 30 feet to get back in the red. He followed by dropping a 75-foot birdie putt at No. 17.
“That’s probably once in every 200 times that you make that putt,” Berger said, sheepishly.
Berger nearly didn’t need his putter at No. 18 as he came within inches of holing out from the middle of the fairway for an eagle on the par-four final hole. He settled for a tap-in birdie which put the ‘Noles in front and gave him a share of the individual lead.
“That was a lot of fun,” Jones said of Berger’s finish. “He stepped up on the 13th tee and said, ‘I will not shoot over 69 today,’ and he birdies the last three to shoot 69. That’s why they’re first-team All-Americans.”
Letson’s 70 played no small role for the Seminoles and the left-hander managed the course with efficiency.
“For a while there he was our only guy under par and was holding us in,” Jones said. “He’s the one guy that got off to a decent start. You can’t discount Doug’s 70. He’s a good player, plays this golf course well and he’s got a lot of confidence right now. He needs to get out of his way tomorrow. He could shoot a low number for us.”
Letson did a better job of that on Saturday, compared to an up-and-down, opening round 71.
“I’ve been hitting a lot of greens,” Letson said. “I just tried to keep hitting greens, relax and not try and force things. I was playing well yesterday and I felt I wasn’t getting anything out of my round so I was trying to force it and it got worse. Today I shot one stroke better …. It worked out well.”
That’s the kind of mentality that was needed to keep the ‘Noles on track for a second win in three tournaments.
“Our goal is to just give us a chance on the back-nine tomorrow,” Letson added. “We just want to get ourselves in position to win.”
Berger isn’t the only Seminole chasing the individual title. Rowin Caron and Chase Seiffert, each playing as individuals this week, are tied for third and fifth, respectively. Caron was one of only three golfers in the field of 65 to record a bogey-free round on Saturday. His 68 gives him a two-round total of six-under, 136.
“It was actually quite a bit harder than yesterday, but I hit the ball really good,” Caron said. “I almost didn’t hit any bad shots the whole day and gave myself a lot of chances. Unfortunately I didn’t take advantage of all of them. It could have been a really, really low round, but overall I’m happy with the result on a day like this.”
Seiffert also carded a 68 and is one of five golfers tied at five-under for the tournament.
“They are players who have been in the lineup and out of the lineup some,” Jones said of Caron and Seiffert. “They’re capable of that, without question, and it’s good for their confidence and good for the team for them to play well. They came out this week and have executed very well.”
Jones will take his chances with a well-executed closing round from the Seminoles on Sunday, despite capable challengers in Mississippi State and Coastal Carolina.
“We got out-played mostly, early in the day,” Jones said. “The guys got better and hung tough. ... We didn’t lose our even keel and (they) held their composure well and played the harder nine better. That’s a good thing going into tomorrow.
“We just have to go out and play the golf course and play like we can.”