Competing in the prestigious Golfweek Division III Fall Preview at the Raven Golf Course in Sandestin, Fla, the Panthers made a spirited run at the top spot before settling for a second-place finish, one shot behind tournament champion St. John’s (Minn.).
St.John’s had a three-day score of 876, followed by LaGrange College (877), Oglethorpe (879), Methodist (883) and Texas-Tyler (885).
In the individual competition, Howard blew everyone away.
The sophomore took the lead on the first day with a 69, and he ended up winning by six shots after subsequent rounds of 68 and 68 to finish at 8-under.
All in all, LaGrange College head coach Lee Richter called it an “incredible” performance from the Panthers, considering the 18-team, invitation-only tournament included many of the nation’s top NCAA Division III teams, including four of the top five teams in the most recent national rankings.
“If somebody would have told me we’ll give you a fifth place and you don’t have to go down there, I’d take it,” Richter said. “I might even take 10th. It was a total team effort. Everybody contributed.”
As for Howard, he smoked the competition.
He only had four bogeys in three rounds to go along with 12 birdies, and he finished strong with a 33 on the back nine on Tuesday.
“Cory played lights out,“ Richter said. “He actually missed some putts coming in or it would have been even better. But he made pretty much everything he needed to. He hit the driver well, he hit his irons right at the pins. He kept it together, and he just played a solid tournament.”
The closest player to Howard was Alex Kapraun of St. Thomas University (Minn)., who finished at 2-under, well off the pace.
In third place was Alex Andrews of Wittenberg and Casey Vangsness of St. John‘s, whose 1-over scores left them 11 shots behind Howard.
In the team competition, LaGrange College was part of a tightly-bunched pack of teams heading into the third and final round.
When the final putt was made, only three strokes separated the top three teams, and the top-five teams were all within nine shots of each other.
“It was kind of a wild day,” Richter said.
While Howard led the way for the Panthers in the third round with a 68, James Liang capped a stellar tournament with a 72.
Liang got better each round after shooting a 75 on the first day and a 73 the second day.
Liang ended up in a tie for 20th place.
Freddie Wolford and Victor Choi each shot a 77 on Tuesday to round out the scoring.
David Hensley, after back-to-back rounds of 75, struggled to an 81 on Tuesday, but it didn’t matter since only the top four scores counted toward the team total.
Choi had a 71 in the first round before posting back-to-back scores of 77, and Wolford rebounded after rounds of 79 and 84 the first two days.
It was far and away the Panthers’ best showing of the fall after finishes of eighth and 10th place in the previous two tournaments.
“We haven’t been playing bad, we just haven’t gotten hot yet. You have to put something together,” Richter said. “Cory got hot, the other guys played well, and we didn’t have to count any big numbers. That’s the trick.”
The Panthers have one more tournament this fall before taking a break before the spring season.
If the Panthers continue to play well, they’ll return to Sandestin for the NCAA Division III national championship in the spring.
“If we can somehow get in that national championship, we obviously like the course,” Richter said. “There’s no telling what will happen.”