Griffin's Tigers Win SEC Golf Championship

Two Auburn teams finished second in SEC Championship competition while the men's golf team won an elusive prize on Sunday at Sea Island, Ga.

It's been 21 years since Auburn University took home the team SEC Men's Golf Championship Trophy and that is what happened on Sunday as the Tigers finished a seven-stroke victory over defending champion Florida.

Auburn posted rounds of 285-282-290 on the challenging par 70, 6,8885 Seaside Course at Sea Island, Ga., on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to win the third conference title in AU men's golf history. The first came in 1976 and the second was in 1981.

Jay Mundy led the Tigers at the SEC Championship held on the Georgia coast.

Coach Mike Griffin, who took over the program 18 years ago, had led the Tigers to the runnerup spot six times before winning the big prize on Sunday. "This is my first SEC title since I arrived at Auburn in 1984 so that makes this one even more special," Griffin says.

"This team is special to me because they are one of the hardest working groups I have ever been around and it showed," Griffin adds. "They made up their minds at the start of the season that they wanted to win the SEC Championship. They have gotten better and better throughout the season and were able to accomplish that goal on a very tough golf course."

Auburn coach Mike Griffin says he likes the 2001-2002 Tigers' work ethic.

Consistency was the key for Griffin's Tigers with four finishers in the Top 12. The Tigers also came in to the tournament with momentum after capturing the Billy Hitchcock Invitational earlier this month.

Junior Jay Mundy finished third individually with a two-over-par 212 total, two shots off the pace set by Camilio Benedetti of Florida and one behind Ryan Hybl of Georgia. Auburn's Will Claxton was fourth at 213. Claxton had rounds of 72-68-73 while Mundy shot 70-67-75 and had led the event after two rounds.

Auburn's Lee Williams tied for fifth at 214 and Kevin Haefner, the man Griffin calls the leader of this year's team, rallied with a 71 on Sunday to move up to 12th with a 218 total. Haefner helped hold off a late rally from the Gators, who trailed by 15 strokes with nine holes to play.

"I am very proud of the guys," Griffin says. "I am especially proud of Jay Mundy. He played extremely well and came close to winning the individual title. All of our guys stepped it up and played well this weekend. We had a 15-stroke lead at the turn, but Florida cut into the lead and was within striking distance. But, we rode the ship on in and brought it to the barn with a solid seven-stroke win over a very talented Florida team."

Jay Mundy led the tournament after 36 holes.

Auburn's 857 total was 17-over-par on the demanding layout and was followed by Florida (864), Georgia (866), LSU and Vandy (874), Arkansas (878), Tennessee (881), Kentucky (887), Alabama (892), Ole Miss and South Carolina (896) and Mississippi State (910).

"It was really exciting to see Jay and Will, our three and four guys, step up and play so well. That was the key to the victory. Everybody knows that Kevin Haefner and Will have been playing well all year."

While the 12th-ranked Tigers were the third highest ranked SEC team men's golf prior to the championships, the women's team was ranked No. 1 in the country and expected to win. However, that did not happen as Auburn was overtaken in the third and final round at the SEC Women's Golf Championships in Athens, Ga.

South Carolina, ranked 24th nationally, was an upset winner by firing a final round 290. Auburn had easily defeated USC in the last regular season meeting between the two teams. However, the Lady Gamecocks were three strokes better than Auburn, which shot 293 on Sunday, and five strokes ahead of Tennessee, which finished with a 289.

Vanderbilt had the best final round on Sunday, a 281, and moved into fourth place with an 875 total, 13 strokes ahead of host and defending national champion Georgia.

Junior Celeste Troche led Auburn with rounds of 70-71-71 to finish in third place at four-under-par 212. Kristy McPherson of South Carolina was the individual winner with a seven-under-par 209.

Celeste Troche led the Auburn effort at the University of Georgia Golf Course.

Other Auburn competitors included junior Danielle Downey(69-76-72--217), sophomore Diana Ramage (70-75-74--219), senior Courtney Swaim (71-72-76--219) and freshman Kingsley Barrett (79-73-77--229).

Kim Evans, who was named SEC Coach of the Year, said, "Finishing second in a tournament like this with the caliber of teams who compete in the SEC is quite an accomplishment, but obviously we are a little disappointed."

The Tigers will be back in action May 9-11 at a site to be determined in NCAA regional qualifying.

In Knoxville, Tenn., the host University of Tennessee Volunteers avenged a regular season loss to Auburn by knocking off the Tigers 4-1 in the finals of the SEC Men's Tennis Championship.

The Vols had fallen to Auburn 4-3 at the Luther Young Tennis Center last month. In that match, the Tigers started with a victory by winning the doubles point, however, UT changed that in Knoxville.

Rameez Junaid is shown in action during his suspended match at one singles vs. the Vols. the sophomore was leading 3-2 in the third set when Tennessee clinched the SEC title.

At one doubles, Mario Toledo and Simon Rea knocked off Rameez Junaid and Tiago Ruffoni 8-5 while Auburn's Andy Colombo and Mark Kovacs were 8-4 winners at two doubles. With the doubles point in the balance, the No. 3 AU team of Andre Boz and Estevam Strecker lost a very close 9-7 match and that gave the Volunteers the momentum needed to win the title.

Kovacs won his match in straight sets over Mark Dietrich 6-1, 7-6 to score the only point for the Tigers. Colombo lost 6-4, 6-0 at two singles to Handoyo, Ruffoni was upset 6-3, 6-3 by Carey at No. 3 singles and Mark Van Elden fell 6-1, 6-0 at five singles. Junaid was leading 3-2 in the third set of one singles when the match was clinched and Strecker was trailing 4-0 in the third set at six singles.

Auburn coach Eric Shore said he expects the Tigers to hear some good news from the NCAA about being a host for one of the 16 regional tournaments that will be played May 10-12. The winners of those four-team events advance to the NCAA Championships in College Station, Tex., which will run May 18-26.

"Tennessee earned the win," Shore said. "The doubles was close, but their guys played well and had the momentum heading into the singles. To win an SEC Championship, you have to have everyone fighting for everything and I am disappointed, but I think that this will help us in the long run."

The Auburn coach, whose team is now 17-7, will learn its NCAA Tournament seeding on May 2nd. Shore said he has been pleased with how the Tigers have been playing and said that Kovacs and Strecker stepped up their performances to help Auburn to its best SEC finish since winning back to back titles in 1983 and 1984 under the direction of Hugh Thomson.

Eric Shore (right) and assistant coach Paul Arber check out the action on Sunday in Knoxville.

"I really hope that we will get a chance to play an NCAA Regional in Auburn," Shore told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "Right now, our plan is to rest and then get back to work to prepare for the NCAAs. We need to hit the weight room and work on our conditioning to get ready for the regional. Hopefully, if we get a regional we can get a great crowd out to help us with homecourt advantage. That would be great."

Auburn entered the SEC Tournament ranked 15th, but Shore said that he expects that ranking to improve with a 4-1 victory over ninth-ranked Kentucky in the SEC semi-finals.

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