MANATEE -- The prep golf season is about to hit crunch time.
The crescendo begins Friday with the 2011 Manatee County Championship.
And the only question is who will finish runner-up.
Lakewood Ranch has been so good this season that an upset on the scale of the New York Giants derailing the New England Patriots’ perfect season in Super Bowl XLII would be necessary to knock the Mustangs out of the winner’s circle.
The club is 65-0 and has shown no signs of slowing down.
Even in the past, beating a program like Lakewood Ranch for the county crown was a daunting task.
The Mustangs, who featured professional and former Florida State University standout Seath Lauer earlier this decade, has reeled off an impressive eight county titles, including the past three -- in the past 10 years. This year’s squad is deep and boasts defending state champion Danny Walker along with Kyle Benson, who finished second at the prestigious Donald Ross Memorial Invitational on Oct. 3; Ramsey Touchberry; Connor Baldwin; Hunter Sagar; and Dylan Hogan.
Last year, the venue was the tight Rosedale Golf & Country Club and took place on a Saturday, just two days before the prestigious Donald Ross Memorial Invitational.
This fall, the event returns to the normal Friday slot and precedes district tournament action slated to begin across the state Monday.
The tournament features tee times ranging from 11 a.m.-1:21 p.m. with all eight county programs in action at The River Club off State Road 70.
Manatee, Southeast, Palmetto, Bayshore, host Braden River, Bradenton Christian and Saint Stephen’s join Ranch in Friday’s field.
It isn’t all about the Mustangs, though, as players from other schools have legitimate shots at capturing the individual portion of the county tourney.
Topping that list is BCS’ Jordan Miller, who won the recent Donald Ross at the famed Sara Bay Country Club with a tournament-tying record 67.
Miller followed that performance up with a 2-under-par 34 in a nine-hole match against Saint Stephen’s and a 1-over 73 in leading the Panthers to the Bay Conference championship Tuesday in Largo.
Saint Stephen’s Connor Lynch also is peaking. He fired a 4-under-par 32 in a nine-hole match victory over Manatee on Tuesday.
Speaking of the Hurricanes, they have freshman Cole Johnson. The Parrish golfer came to Manatee with a sparkling junior resume, boasting various victories in junior golf tournaments that could help him navigate The River Club under the county tournament pressure.