LUTZ — As the No. 1 group in Tuesday’s tri-match at Cheval putted on the No. 9 green, a 5-foot, gray-camouflage alligator rested motionless on a pond bank roughly 100 yards away.
Fittingly, his mouth was agape, as if astounded by the intense duel being waged before his reptilian eyes among Jesuit’s Anthony Maccaglia, Chamberlain’s Gary Buffington and Gaither’s Jimmy Stanger.
On a glorious autumn afternoon, all three were as crisp as the dusk feel-like temperatures, with Maccaglia recording a bogey-free, 1-under-par 35 on Cheval’s front nine to lead Jesuit (10-0) to a convincing team victory.
Buffington, the reigning Class 2A, District 10 champion, finished with an even 36, ending his round with a 14-yard chip shot from well below the No. 2 pin for birdie. Stanger, who won his age group at July’s FSGA Junior Boys Championship, shot 1-over 37.
“It was a heck of a round,” said Buffington, who had bogeyed consecutive par-5 holes before his birdie-clinching chip. “Neck-and-neck all day. It was a blast.”
The Tigers, also buoyed by junior Brian Lanoue’s 38, finished with a four-player team score of 155, nine shots better than Gaither (8-3) and 12 ahead of Chamberlain (6-5). Cowboys senior Josh Black (39) had the only other sub-40 round.
But this showcase at Cheval centered around the first group. All three, expected to contend for state tournament berths, were at even par after five holes.
“We’re all competitive,” Maccaglia said. “We don’t want to lose, and to thrive under the pressure is so much fun. As a group we shot even par, which is phenomenal.”
Maccaglia notched his lone birdie on the par-5 first hole, using a 4-iron to hit out of a bunker on his second shot before punching a wedge shot near the pin.
Otherwise, his putter carried the day. A short downhill attempt on No. 7 and a 12-footer on No. 8 saved par. Buffington upstaged Maccaglia on No. 8 with a 20-foot putt for birdie.
“My dad kept my stats. He said I only hit four fairways, three greens and I had 12 putts,” Maccaglia said. “It’s all about the short game, it really is.”