__WEST LAFAYETTE, IND.--__They had been conspicuous by their absence from the top of the leader board for much of the 2007-08 season. But Clemson and Florida junior Billy Horschel, the team and individual leader at the 111th NCAA Championship through 36 holes, figured the Purdue's Kampen Course was a pretty good place to let everyone know rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
For the Tigers, ranked 15th in the final Golf World/Nike Golf spring coaches' poll after having carded four runner-up finishes in 11 starts this season without a win, an even-par 288 in Round 2 was the quintessential tale of two nines. Starting on the 10th tee, Clemson made the turn in 11 over par, counting five double bogeys. Over their next nine holes, they made no bogeys and shot 11 under par, led by sophomore Kyle Stanley's 68, to finish at 13-over 589 overall.
"We had to tighten the screws kind of quick," said Clemson coach Larry Penley, the hall of fame coach making his 25th NCAA championship appearance. "We certainly couldn't let it get away from us. If we would have followed that nine with another six or seven or eight over par, we're stuck in a log jam at 25 or 26 over par. Now you're fighting to make the cut, just trying to be respectable.
"We put our selves into position where we can try to win this golf tournament the next 36 holes. And that's all we wanted, we just want a chance. And that back side today is going to give us a chance."
Clemson holds a one-stroke edge over first-round co-leader UCLA, the Bruins shooting a five-over 293. The other school on top after 18 holes, USC, finished the day with a six-over 294 to fall two off the pace in third place. (For full field scoring, click here to link to Golfstat.)
Amazingly it has been more than two years since the Tigers last won a tournament title, winning the U.S. Collegiate in April 2006. A year ago the Tigers lost in a playoff for the final berth out of the East Regional into the NCAA Championship, Stanley advancing individually and finishing runner-up at Golden Horseshoe.
The winless streak isn't quite as long for Horschel, but the two-time first-team All-American could do no better than a T-3 finish at the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate this season after a victory in his freshman and sophomore season. With a five-under 67 Thursday, however, the 21-year-old from Grant, Fla., put himself in a position to change that as he took the 36-hole lead with a five-under 139 overall.
"I have just been making some putts," Horschel said. "That's the real difference from [earlier this year]. Just getting a little confidence in my putting. I always felt like I'm close to breaking through."
Horschel's play has single-handedly kept the Gators in the team competition, as no other Florida golfer has shot better than a 74 yet the team is only four shots back of Clemson. "All-Americans step up at big times, and he did that for us the last round at regionals and he's doing that for us this week," said Florida coach Buddy Alexander.
First-round individual leader Kevin Chappell of UCLA is three back of Horschel after making a double bogey on the 18th hole to finish at one-over 71 for the day. He's tied in fourth place with Georgia's Hudson Swafford, who shot a 69 Thursday. (For full individual scoring, click here to link to Golfstat.)