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Florida’s Ricky Castillo (68) shrugs off two unplayables, continues hot streak

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Florida head coach J.C. Deacon jokes that the old Ricky Castillo is back. The current version of the Gators sophomore, however, may just be better.

Castillo, the reigning Phil Mickelson Award winner, got off to a slow start this season, failing to crack the top 20 in any of his fall starts. But in the past couple of months, Castillo has been lights out, striking it beautifully and rolling in long putts with regularity. He put on a tee-to-green clinic in going 4-0 at the Walker Cup earlier this month, and last week at regionals he helped his team rally into the top five by making five birdies and an eagle in his final 11 holes.

“I spent a lot of the last six or seven months working on my swing, and I’ve just been feeling a lot more comfortable,” Castillo said. “Everything has finally come together. I built a lot of confidence at Walker Cup, and it led into regionals and then to here.”

In Friday’s opening round of the NCAA Championship, Castillo shot 2-under 68 on a difficult day at Grayhawk Golf Club, which despite a lack of wind played tough with difficult pins and rock-hard greens. The Gators are 8 over as a team.

“It’s really easy to make birdies out there,” said Castillo, who carded five of them, including four on the back nine (his first nine) and two (Nos. 14 and 16) via putts from outside of 25 feet. “But it’s also really easy to make bogeys.”

Castillo had three of those, though two of his dropped shots came after taking an unplayable. He hit his drive at the par-4 18th, which played as a par-5 during the women’s championship, off the toe and found the left desert. He then closed his round by flaring his drive right at the par-4 ninth.

But Castillo didn’t fret either time. He got up and down from 90 yards for a tap-in bogey at No. 18 and hit a nice shot to 35 feet and calmly two-putted for bogey at No. 9.

“I just tried to figure out a way to get it in for five,” Castillo said. “That’s what I did really well is making sure I didn’t make any big numbers.”