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The Loop

Florida State playing with confidence at NCAAs

__OOLTEWAH, TENN.—__If there was any nervousness on the part of Florida State coach Trey Jones about how his team might react to being co-leaders after Day 1 of the NCAA Championship, it vanished not long after the Seminoles teed off Wednesday morning during the second round at The Honors Course. That's what happens when one of your golfers—sophomore Wesley Grahambirdies his first five holes.

As it turned out, the red numbers were contagious again for FSU. All five players broke par in the second round as the Seminoles posted a nine-under 279 to jump to a five-stroke lead over Oklahoma State after 36 holes, carding a 14-under 562 total.

"I don't know what golf course those guys were playing out there today," Augusta State coach Josh Gregory. "It was more than impressive."

While Graham cooled down, shooting only a 71, Michael Herbert posted a 68 and Seath Lauer and Drew Kittleson 70s, while Brooks Koepka shot a 71.

"They're extremely confident and extremely loose," said Jones of his squad. "They've been that way the whole time [this week]. They came out and just jumped on a hard golf course today."

Lauer, a senior and the only FSU player who had previously played at nationals, said he wasn't surprised by the way his teammates have played, noting an impressive showing in the practice rounds Monday suggested they were ready for big things.

"We were just all hitting it so good, better really than we have all year," Lauer said. "We played well last fall, but we haven't had all five guys playing great at the same time until now."

Jones echoed Lauer's sentiments. "My father is here and he came up [during the practice round] and said, 'How are you doing?' " Jones noted. "I said 'Watch this. They've never played any better. I don't know how they're going to play this week but they're as ready as they possibly can be.' "

Jones likes to say that his team has "a lot of speed," a reference to swing speeds that suggest they like to hit drivers. So it is that the 7,395-yard Pete Dye course, playing even longer thanks to overnight rains the past few days.

"You get them on a golf course where they can hit their driver, they like that," Jones said. "They don't like to be places that handcuff them too much."

So coach, you had a feeling that the guys might play this kind of course well?

"Personally, I did," Jones said. "But coaches are the world's greatest spin doctors. If we had played the shortest course, I would have talked about how great it was for us to be able to hit short irons off the tees. All coaches try to get it to where it will spin on their behalf."


Suffice it to say, Florida State's performance put the team in a position to have a less stressful third and final round, when schools will be scrambling to be inside the top eight and advance into the match-play bracket to determine the national champion.

That third and final round, though, will begin a little later than expected. A two-hour, 20-minute rain delay in the afternoon kept the second wave of schools from completing their second rounds Wednesday, forcing them to play catch-up tomorrow morning. (Update, Thurs., 9:30 a.m.: Play resumed at 7 a.m. and the second round was completed shortly after. Teams have been repaired for the closing 18 holes of stroke play, which begins at 9:30 a.m.)

Aside from Florida State, the only other school that appears to have locked up one the eight match-play berths is Oklahoma State. The Cowboys shot a four-under 284 and are five shots ahead of third place Georgia Tech.  OSU sophomore Peter Uihlein led the team with a four-under 68 to sit at seven under for the tournament, while Morgan Hoffmann shot a 70 and Kevin Tway finished with a 71.

"We were able to fire at some flags," said Uihlein, whose round was highlighted by a 50-foot birdie putt converted on the par-3 16th. "We played pretty good today. Florida State is playing well, so we will have our work cut out for us tomorrow."

Just how the rest of the Elite Eight will shape up, however, is anyone's guess. Trailing Florida State, Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech are five schools that have completed 36 holes and are separated by just two strokes—Augusta State, Florida, San Diego, Washington and Clemson. Meanwhile, five schools are within three strokes of the top eight, including four Pac-10 squads (Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Arizona State).

It's been 25 years since a NCAA champion successfully defended its team title (Houston, 1984 and 1985). Unfortunately for Texas A&M fans, that streak appears likely to reach 26. While the Aggies shot an opening-round three-under 285 to sit in fourth place, two back of the leaders, they returned to The Honors Course and posted a 16-over 304 to fall all the way 25th place when play ended Wednesday. No A&M player broke par, with freshman __Cameron Peck'__s 72 being the low round on a day when the team had to count a nine-over 81.

"It was a tough day to have our worst day of the year," said A&M coach J.T. Higgins. "We actually got off to a good start, then we hit a stretch of about six holes where we made a lot of big numbers. We turned at 12-over and just couldn't get it back. It is a tough golf course to make up ground."