TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On the first spectacular spring day of the year, the Florida State men’s golf team did not waste the opportunity in the opening round of the Seminole Intercollegiate at the Southwood Golf Course.
Sophomore Daniel Berger fired a 5-under, opening-round 67 and freshman Hank Lebioda nearly matched it with a 68 as the Seminoles grabbed a one-shot lead over Mississippi State at the conclusion of Friday’s action.
“The last couple of tournaments we haven’t got off to that great a start,” said Berger, who is two shots off the tournament lead, held by USF’s Chase Koepka (65). “This was a good one to get under our belt and we’ve got two more days to look forward to.”
FSU’s opening round 277 was 12 shots better than their previous low opening round of the spring. The Seminoles carded a 289 at the Gator Invitational on the University of Florida par 70 track; a tournament they went on to win.
At 7,172 yards, the par 72 Southwood Golf Course played surprisingly benign and the host ‘Noles took full advantage. Berger registered seven birdies and Lebioda added six on a day when the worst score by any of the eight playing Seminoles was even par.
“It was a pretty good day,” FSU coach Trey Jones said of his 17th-ranked team. “That’s why these guys come to Florida State. We’re a deep team. The qualifier coming in here was extremely competitive and we really could have played any of the eight in the lineup.”
In addition to Berger and Lebioda, the Seminoles counted 1-under 71 scores by senior Doug Letson and junior Joaquin Lolas. Junior Bjorn Hellgren finished at even-par 72 to round out FSU’s five designated scorers.
Playing as individuals, Rowin Caron is tied for ninth after an opening-round 70, with teammates Chase Seiffert (71, tied 13th) and Collin Engelhardt (72, tied 26th) in close pursuit.
“You kind of expect to (play well) at home, but one of the things about playing at home is there is additional pressure because they want to play so good here, in front of the people they see every day,” Jones said. “Getting off to a good start at home is extremely important.”
Berger, Lebioda and Letson set the tone with birdies at No. 1 and the Seminoles made the turn for the back nine at 8-under.
“That got the guys settled down a little bit and we made some birdies coming in as well,” Jones said
Demonstrating remarkable poise, Berger rebounded from a potentially unsettling bogey at No. 7 with birdies at Nos. 8 and 9 to keep his big round going, making the turn at three-under.
“That was really a big momentum-changer,” Berger said. “I could have easily got back to even par but I was able to grind out and made a bogey. … Seven is a pretty easy birdie hole, to say the least, so when you’re sitting there over a 15-footer for bogey it’s not really what you want. I knew it wasn’t the end of the day with one bad hole.”
Berger was flawless on the back nine and saved his best moments for the final three holes, with birdies at Nos. 16 and 18. His gap wedge shot to 15 feet, slightly above the hole, led to his final birdie of the round and the difference between a one-shot team lead and a deadlock with No. 36 Mississippi State heading into Saturday.
“Eighteen was a pretty good birdie,” Berger said. “With that pin on the right you can’t too aggressive. If you go long you make bogey. I hit a good shot in there, read the putt right and made it.”
Lebioda was equally strong down the stretch, finishing with birdies at Nos. 16 and 17. The highlight was the 30-foot bomb he dropped for birdie at No. 17.
“On the front nine I had a lot of good lag putts and was pretty near making most of them,” Lebioda said. “I knew if I was going to make a bomb, today felt like the day. It wasn’t really a shock when that went in on 17.”
Jones couldn’t have been happier with the way the tournament unfolded, especially the play of Berger and Lebioda.
“There’s a reason they’re playing 1-2 for us right now,” Jones said. “Hank’s last round was 66 and this one was 68. He’s obviously playing at an extremely high level for anyone, much less a freshman. …
“Daniel is a top-10 player in the country and an All-American candidate, so for him to open with 67 on a day like today – it was a perfect day – that’s what you need your best player to do.”
The Seminoles return to action Saturday morning, with their first tee times set for 9:04 a.m. Check back to Seminoles.com for all your information on the golf team and follow the team at twitter.com/fsugolf.