The Loop

Big boys on bubble entering final stroke-play round

__STILLWATER, Okla.—__Forget that temperatures are supposed to get in the 90s Thursday at Karsten Creek GC. They could be playing the NCAA Championship in Fairbanks, Alaska, and there would be a whole lot of sweating going on Thursday as the final round of stroke-play qualifying unfolds.

Georgia Tech, thanks to 72s from__J.T. Griffin__ and Paul Haley and 73s from James White and Ricky Werenski, takes the team lead into the final round after posting a second-round two-over 290 to put them at three-under 573 through 36 holes. One shot back is UCLA, the Bruins having shot a even-par 288 Wednesday to close the gap on the Yellow Jackets. Illinois (+2 overall), Georgia (+3) and Alabama (+8) round out the top five.

Still, it's not so much who is atop the leader board as it is who is hovering in the middle that will be the intriguing story line as the 30 schools in the field try to sneak inside the top eight spots and advance to the match-play portion of the tournament.

Among those lurking are the last two NCAA champions, Augusta State and Texas A&M. The Jaguars shot a six-over 294 in the second round to put them at 12-over overall, seventh place overall. Considering that the team had to count a 80 from Henrik Norlander during the first round and a 75 from Patrick Reed in the second, coach Josh Gregory is fairly pleased with where his team stands.

"We've still got a shot, which is all you can ask for," Gregory said. "We've been a great final round team the past two years, so I think we've got the guys who will look forward to this challenge and get the job done."

As for the Aggies, a second-round 13-over 301 dropped them one spot back of Augusta State into a tie for eighth place with Ohio State. "Sure, we'd like to have a little more of a cushion heading into the final round," said A&M coach J.T. Higgins. "But a day like to tomorrow, that's what you play for. To me as a coach, that's what makes this all so exciting. I'm looking forward to coming out here and seeing what we can do."

Yet it's another team that's near the cut line that has all the folks watching the championship talking: Oklahoma State. For a second straight day, the host school and top-ranked squad in the country couldn't take advantage of relatively calm weather conditions—or at least didn't put up the signature score that many observers had anticipated from a team that had won eight of 12 tournaments during the 2010-11 season and was playing on its home course.

The Cowboys shot a five-over 293 in the second round to finish at nine-over 585. Granted, that puts them in sixth place, on the good side of the bubble, but it's hardly the position anyone thought OSU would be in at this point in the tournament.

"They just let the course get them and some teams aren't letting the course get them," said OSU coach Mike McGraw after Wednesday round. "It's got some birdies to be made. I think we can play a lot better than this."

OSU counted a 69 from Peter Uihlein, the only player on the team to be under par after 36 holes, but considering the reigning U.S. Amateur champion had been five under on the day through six holes, his final score turned out to be more disappointing than uplifting.

Morgan Hoffmann shot a 73 after opening with a 75, and Kevin Tway bounced back from an opening 77 to post a 74. Yet both All-Americans were expected to perform better than their scores to this point.

"They're all fighting their own battles," said McGraw when asked about why the players seem to be struggling. "Right now I'm just concerned about playing a good round of golf tomorrow. Just like to watch them, top to bottom, 1 to 5, everybody play a good round."

Considering how heavy a favorite OSU was entering the event, and the added backdrop of several hundred anxious Cowboy fans walking the fairways in hopes of seeing the school win an 11th NCAA title, the question arises of whether the pressure of the moment is starting to play a part in the poor play.

"Probably there is pressure on them, but you know what, hopefully you get to have pressure the rest of your life," McGraw said. "You hate to think you won't have pressure in anything you do. I have pressure in my job, and I love it. I hope the kids embrace that. I really do."

"We've just got to have a good day tomorrow," Uihlein said. "There is no way around it. We just have to be ready to play tomorrow."

Only once has the same school won both the men's and women's NCAA titles in the same season, Arizona State accomplishing the feat in 1990. With the UCLA women taking the team title at The Traditions Club nearly two weeks ago, the UCLA men are doing the best they can to try and add their school to the list. A second-round even-par 288, with a 69 from Patrick Cantlay and a 70 from Gregor Main, moved the Bruins into to second place in the team competition through 36 holes.

"I think any time that you see another team at your university win a national championship, it just fires you up," Bruins coach Derek Freeman said. "You're in touch with them, you're around them, you see them and you want to be a part of that. so our guys understand what a national champion looks like, and they want to be with that. so practicing and play ing and seeing those girls, they know who they are and they want that same feeling."

Freeman, an Oklahoma native, figured the best way to get his squad prepared for the conditions the heat, humidity and wind that they might face at Karsten Creek GC was to get them out to the Midwest early. So he took his team to Oak Tree National GC in Edmond last Thursday and had them play three rounds at the course before heading to Stillwater.

"We spent some time preparing," Freeman said. "That golf course is very hard and very challenging. They were accommodating to us in practice. Whether that makes a difference, who knows. But I think getting in this time zone a couple days early made a lot of sense for us right now."

Most impressive move of the second round? Easily the improvement made by Pac-10 champion USC. The Trojans shot a disappointed 15-over 303 in the opening round, counting 78s from Steve Lim and T.J. Vogel after Sam Smith was DQ'd for signing an incorrect scorecard (he had shot a 91 with four birdies, however, so his score wasn't going to count anyway).

Upon returning to Karsten Creek on Wednesday, however, USC posted a second-round one-over 289, Smith shooting a one-under 71, Lim a 72 and Vogel a 73. The flip-flop helped jump the Trojans from 18th to 10th and in contention for one of the eight spots in the match-play field.