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Tuesday July 5th, 2022 2:56AM

7A state golf: Davidson wins low medalist; GHS finishes 2nd as Milton rallies to defend title

By Jeff Hart | Video by Seth Chapman
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GAINESVILLE — Gainesville had the lead and was on its home course. Defending Class 7A champion Milton, however, had the experience and the depth.

The Eagles blistered the back-9 for 13 birdies to just five for Gainesville on Tuesday’s final round as they pulled away late to defend their state title at the Class 7A golf championships at the Chattahoochee Golf Course.

Milton shot a 1-over 289 on Tuesday to finish with a two-day 582, 15-shots better than Gainesville’s 21-over 597. Lambert finished at 23-over 599 for third. North Forsyth was fourth with a 605 and Lowndes fifth at 615. The Eagles placed three players in the top seven overall.

But while Milton was winning the team battle, Gainesville’s Ryan Davidson won the individual war capturing the state title with a 4-under 140, nipping the Eagles’ Rahul Rajendran by a stroke. Davidson flipped a one-shot deficit with birdies on Nos. 14 and 16 and then a two-putt par on 18 to seal it.

Davidson and Rajendran both trailed North Paulding’s Bryant Vail by two shots after Monday’s opening round and both fired 2-under 70s to hold off the field. Vail struggled to a 6-over 78 on Tuesday to finish at 2-over 146. 

“The goal coming into the year was to try and win the state title. It’s great to be able to do it. It’s exciting,” Davidson said. “I didn’t look at the scores as I was out there. I was tempted but I was just thinking about the next shot and not whatever else was going on.

“I had no idea I was up a shot when I came to 18 but I hit a great drive and a good wedge onto the green. I didn’t know I had won until it was over.”

The Eagles’ destruction of the back-9 helped erase a three-shot Gainesville lead to start the day and a five-shot lead early in the final round. And they did it with two players -- Will Jones (hip injury) and Mason Fundingsland (salmonella) -- battling through adversity.

Jones limped around the course for a fourth place tie with Vail at 2-over while Fundingland topped off his gutsy round rolling in a 30-foot chip on 18.

“We’ve had several tournaments this year where we’ve had to fight through things and they learned from those,” Milton coach Tom Dell said. “I think that paid off because the guys dug down deep and really played well despite all of that.

“This was Gainesville’s home course and they know it well. They have very good players and we knew it would be tough. (Gainesville) showed us (on Monday) that we weren’t going to be able to just show up and win. They pushed us.”

Gainesville coach Cameron Milholland said they will never be disappointed in a runner-up finish, although they know it was there for the taking.

“We’re very proud of the guys with how we finished,” Milholland said. “We got off to a shaky start but we battled the whole way. Milton is just an incredible group. It was tight until about 11 or 12 and then they just pulled away from everybody.

“The second place was there and the guys knew it coming down the stretch and they were able to make it happen. To finish second in the highest classification in Georgia is excellent and I’ll never be disappointed with that.”

And Milholland was not surprised by Davidson’s ability to grab the individual title.

“Ryan is special, man,” he said. “He really dialed it in today. He struggled a little bit early but won his final three tournaments of the season. He’s just special.”

It was a three-way, head-to-head showdown for the title as Gainesville, Milton, and Lambert were all paired together.

After the first three groups on Tuesday, Milton had jumped into the lead spot at 4-over while Gainesville slipped to second at 5-over. Lambert remained third but dropped to seven-shots back at 11-over. North Forsyth, who played the entire opening round at 7-over, struggled early, matching that score over the first three holes to fall 10 shots off the pace.

Things tightened up from there. After all six groups completed No. 3, Milton (6-over) led Gainesville by a stroke and Lambert by two. After six, the Red Elephants caught the Eagles at 4-over while Lambert began to slip back at 10-over.

But that was just the beginning of the back-and-forth jockeying for the top spot. Lambert eventually recovered and between Nos. 8 and 12 as the lead changed hands four times between the three teams.

After the Par 4 12th, Milton sat at 10-over with a two shot lead over Lambert before getting as low as 6-over for the tournament with its birdie binge. At the same time, Gainesville’s bid for a home-spun title likely ended in that five-hole span, falling back to third at 17-over.

Lambert’s title bid ended at No. 14 when three players took 7 or more as they went from 1-shot back at one point to 13 shots behind by No. 16.

Meanwhile, North Forsyth fell to 19-over at the turn to fall out of contention.

At the same time, the individual medalist race also began to heat up. Vial, who started at No. 10 on Tuesday, brought a three-shot lead into the final round and was steady through the first four holes.

He ran into trouble with back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 and then double-bogeyed No. 1 after the turn. He added another bogey on the Par 3 3rd dropping to 2-over.

Davidson and Rajendran took advantage. Both began the day at 2-under and caught Vial by the turn with Davidson moving to 3-under after the front-9. Rajendran got to 3-under after a birdie on the 12th and maintained that lead until Davidson’s two birdies late.

(Click here to see the entire individual leaderboard.)

(Click here to see the entire team leaderboard.)

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