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Golf Claims First-Ever Big South Championship
No. 1 seed Liberty fired a closing-round, one-over par 289 on Wednesday to secure its first-ever conference championship, winning the 2011 Big South Men's Golf Championship by 31 strokes at The Patriot Golf Club.
Liberty, who moved up to No. 29 in the country in the latest Golfstat national rankings, finished the three-day, 54-hole event with an eight-under par 856 (290-277-289). The Flames finished 31 shots ahead of runner-up Gardner-Webb, as the Runnin' Bulldogs shot a 23-over par 887 (299-285-303).
Winthrop (294-302-292) and Coastal Carolina (295-305-288) shared third place with a 24-over par 888. The Chanticleers came into the week having won the last seven Big South titles and 12 out of the last 14 conference championships.
Liberty's team title was finalized by the Flames securing the top three spots on the individual leaderboard, starting with 2011 Big South medalist Preston Dembowiak.
The senior came into today's final round with a four-shot lead, following a career round of six-under par 66, yesterday.
Dembowiak, who was named Big South Scholar-Athlete of the Year and all-conference on Sunday, struggled out of the gates, missing his first four fairways, which caused him to drop three shots after five holes.
He carded a double bogey six on the par-4, No. 3 hole, the tournament's second hardest hole, and scored another bogey after a drive out of bounds on the par-5, No. 5 hole.
After trading a birdie and a bogey on No. 6 and No. 7, a drive just below the fairway bunker on the par-5, No. 8 hole seemed to settle down the senior, as he strung together four-straight pars.
He missed the fairway long on the par-4, No. 12 hole, driving it through the short grass. But the errant drive proved beneficial, as it positioned him well to hit a close shot to an elevated green, where he caught the left edge of the cup for his second birdie of the day.
The under-par score proved key to his individual victory, as Dembowiak made the turn tied at five-under par with Gardner-Webb's Daniel Kim. However, Kim bogeyed the same 12th hole, giving Dembowiak a two-shot lead with six holes to play.
On the par-5, No. 13 hole, which measured 580 yards and played the entire tournament into the wind, Dembowiak struck two shots well to find some flat ground just 20 yards off the green. From there, the senior was able to find the bottom of the cup with a wedge shot that two hopped into the hole for his second eagle in as many days.
Dembowiak was able to cruise to the victory down the stretch, finishing the final five closing homes at one-over par after a bogey for the second day on the par-3, No. 17 hole.
On the day, Dembowiak finished by hitting 9-of-14 fairways, 12-of-18 greens in regulation and by hitting 29 putts.
The senior finished the tournament with a seven-under par 209 (70-66-73), earning his first collegiate victory and gave Liberty individual medalist honors for the second year in row. The 209 was Dembowiak's lowest 54-hole total in his career, besting his four-under par 212 to open the season at the Golfweek Conference Challenge.
Last year, Robert Karlsson also finished with a seven-under par 209, while Yong Joo fired a seven-under par 209 in 2000 to help both players claim Big South medalist honors.
Dembowiak finished three shots clear of fellow Flame Max McKay, who took runner-up honors with a three-under par 213 (71-69-73).
Karlsson (73-71-70) followed and shared third place with Gardner-Webb's Kim (73-70-72) with a two-under par 214, while Charleston Southern's David Delinger closed out the players in red figures with a one-under par 215 (73-71-72).
Liberty's final two golfers in the field were 2011 Big South Freshman of the Year Chase Marinell and sophomore Andrew Colvin. Marinell finished tied for 11th place with a seven-over par 223 (77-71-75), while Colvin shared 18th place with a nine-over par 225 (76-76-73).
With today's team victory, Liberty now has earned the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals. Liberty will be making its third trip the NCAA Regionals after earning at-large bids in 2003 and 2006. The Flames will learn their NCAA Regional location 10 days prior to the Regionals starting May 19-21, 2011, in six different locations around the country.