Editor’s note: Play was suspended for the day due to darkness. The second round will resume Thursday morning.
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OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – It didn’t matter that it took Florida State over six hours to play its practice round Monday on the eve of the NCAA Championship at The Honors Course.
What did matter to coach Trey Jones and company was the way that practice round was played.
“We were kind of in awe of each other about how good everyone was hitting it (in practice round),” said senior Seath Lauer. “It really gave us confidence.”
Added Jones: “We never have played any better. Of course, it’s one thing to do it in a practice round and another thing to come back and do it once the tournament gets going.”
The Seminoles are on a roll through the first two rounds of stroke play at the national championship.
After a co-leading 5-under 283 to start the tournament, FSU came back Wednesday with an impressive 9-under 279 to grab the outright lead and separate itself from most of the 30-team field.
Standing at 14-under 562, the Seminoles hold a five-shot lead over Oklahoma State, also a first-round co-leader. The Cowboys, No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, shot 284 in the 15-team morning wave of competition.
San Diego’s Alex Ching surged to the front in the race for the individual title with a competitive course record 6-under 66. That was one shot better than the previous mark held by Tiger Woods and Adam Mitchell.
Ching, who opened with a 69, stands at 9-under 135. Starting on the back nine, he had a nine-hole stretch (Nos. 12-2) where he made seven birdies. But he double bogeyed the par-3 third before closing with a birdie at No. 7 and the rest pars.
He holds a two shot lead over morning leaders Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma State and Henrik Norlander of Augusta State. Scott Langley of Illinois was also 7 under with one hole to play.
An afternoon thunderstorm forced play to be stopped for 2 hours, 12 minutes. Those players who did not complete the second round will come back Thursday morning to do so.
Uihlein had rounds of 68-69, while Norlander shot 69-68. They are two strokes in front of Lauer and Georgia Tech’s Paul Haley.
Sparked by Haley’s 69, Georgia Tech shot 6-under 282 and jumped into third place at 4-under 572, three strokes better than Augusta State and four in front of Florida and San Diego.
The final stroke play round takes place Thursday after which the individual champion will be crowned and the top eight teams will advance to match play. The championship will conclude Sunday.
Starting Wednesday morning, the Seminoles looked as though they were going to run away from the field. Wesley Graham made birdie on his first five holes (Nos. 10-14) to take FSU to 14 under, nine shots in front of Oklahoma State.
While FSU cooled off a bit, the Cowboys made a slight charge and got within three shots of the lead before the dust settled.
“We came here to win this thing and to be the No. 1 seed (in match play),” said Jones. “We can’t take our eyes off that. I felt we had a team that could come in here and play with anybody. So far I think we’re showing we can. But there’s still a long way to go and what we have to do is continue to stay relaxed and focused.”
For the second consecutive day, weather and course conditions were near perfect and players took advantage.
“It was like playing golf indoors out there,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw. “It was perfect. The bottom line though is you still have to make birdies. We made a few and we know we’re going to have to make more.”
Uihlein’s play so far is a continuation from his three events leading into nationals. He tied for eighth at the Aggie Invitational, was second at the Big 12 Conference Championship and won the NCAA Southeast Regional. In all three event, he was low player for the Cowboys.
“I had a good fall (two wins) then kind of struggled most of the spring,” Uihlein said. “But I’ve been playing well lately and feel I’m peaking at the right time. I think our whole team is peaking at the right time.”
Uihlein made the turn in 2 under after birdies at Nos. 6 and 7, then added another at the 10th. After a bogey at the 15th, he birdied No. 16 – running in a 50-foot putt – and 17.
“With no wind, if you keep it in play you can score out here,” Uihlein said.
Norlander said his round of 68 “was probably the best round of my life,” noting that he hit 17 greens and had 33 putts.
Starting on the 10th hole, Norlander opened with a bogey, then eagled the par-5 11th. He birdied the 14th, but followed with a bogey at 15. His bogey-free front side included birdies at Nos. 2, 4 and 6.
“I’m not sure it could have been any better,” Norlader said. “The key out here is hitting fairways and I’ve been doing a good job of that these last two days.”