The Petrels have momentum heading in.
Oglethorpe Athletics

DESTIN, Fla. -- Can anyone unseat Oglethorpe?

That’s the question as the 2013 NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championship kicks off Tuesday at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.

During the next four days the top-ranked Stormy Petrels will attempt to defend their 2012 national title while the rest of the 41-team field hopes to storm through the standings.

All the heavyweights from last year returned to the championship field, including second-ranked Methodist, which finished third in last year’s national championship, and 11th-ranked Transylvania, the reigning runner-up. The latest Golf Coaches Association of America poll has St. John's (Minn.) ranked third, with Gustavus Adolphus and Illinois Wesleyan tied for fourth.

As for tournament logistics, the men will play one round each on Sandestin’s The Links Course and Raven Golf Club. Following the cut, the remaining 15 teams play their final 36 holes on Raven, site of the PGA Champions Tour’s Boeing Championship in 2006 and ’07.

Oglethorpe will be difficult to upend. This is the program’s 13th consecutive NCAA championship bid and 15th overall. The Petrels have won their previous three starts, including the Southern Athletic Association championship. They’re seeking their third title in five years (2009, '12). And Transylvania likely hasn’t forgotten Oglethorpe’s 20-stroke margin of victory in last year’s NCAA tournament.

Count on the Methodist Monarchs to battle back after falling to third place in the final holes of last year’s NCAA championship final round. The 2000 NCAA tournament was the last time they finished second, but they owned the show a decade ago, winning nine NCAA Division III titles from 1990-1999, a 10-year span interrupted only by UC San Diego’s 1993 victory. In a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup earlier this season, Oglethorpe beat Methodist in the Emory Spring Invitational.

Although any team can power to an NCAA title under the right circumstances, look first at the top of the rankings -- and historical championship finishes -- for this week’s tournament. St. John's (Minn.) won back-to-back titles in 2007-08. Of the two teams tied for fourth in the rankings, Gustavus Adolphus won the 2004 title and Illinois Wesleyan was the runner-up behind Greensboro in '11.

Sixth-ranked Guilford, the 2005 national champion, was the 2010 runner-up. Seventh-ranked La Verne undoubtedly seeks a breakthrough -- the Leopards have yet to win an NCAA title but finished as runners-up in 2007 and '09.

Oglethorpe’s power extends to the individual competition, where sophomore Anthony Maccaglia is the defending Division III champion. Illinois Wesleyan’s Dax Reese and Redlands’ Jeremy Sanders tied for third behind Maccaglia a year ago and are likely to be at the forefront of the 210-player field competing for 2013 medalist honors.