Team leader: Augusta State, 11-under 565
Individual leader: Mitchell Sutton, N.C. State, 9-under 135
In position (the next four): 2. Florida (569), 2. N.C. State (569), 4. Arkansas (570), 4. Baylor (570)
Chasing (still work to do): 6. Kennesaw State (571), 6. Georgia Southern (571), 8. Southeastern Louisiana (573), 9. Oregon (576)
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On top again: The only clues Patrick Reed had were from his coach, Josh Gregory, who was trailing in the fairway. “We’re playing well,” Gregory would report after checking the live scoring on his cellphone.
Just how well came as a surprise to Reed. When the Augusta State junior walked past the leaderboard outside the clubhouse here at Golden Ocala Golf Club, he nearly froze. A 13-under 275 – the low round of the day by six strokes – vaulted Augusta State, the defending NCAA champion, into the lead Friday at the NCAA Southeast Regional. Yes, another slow start that clearly was forgotten.
“It’s just what we do,” Gregory said, smiling. “We’re a terrible first-round team. It’s hard, though, when you haven’t competed in more than a month, and all the expectations and all the pressures in the world being the defending champions, and you come to regionals with, really, a not-a-whole-lot-to-gain mindset, other than the opportunity to win.
“That said, we just played poorly (Thursday).”
Augusta State was eight strokes back after the opening round, but only five behind the all-important fifth spot. (The top 5 teams advance to the NCAA Championship.) That deficit alone could have been attributed to a late-round stumble by Olle Bengtsson, who took a 9 on the par-4 16th.
And, like usual, the Jaguars didn’t panic. They’ve been here before. Last year, in fact, at the Southwest Regional near San Diego, Augusta State was eight back of fifth place after the first round but went on to finish second. What happened a few weeks later, at the Honors Course in Tennessee, is well-documented.
“I don’t know if it’s being lackadaisical or I don’t know if it’s comfort with the course or what it is,” said Reed, who shot 5-under 67 Friday to move into a share of seventh individually. “We just don’t get off to a great start, but it always seems to click.”
Is such a trend concerning, particularly with nationals – and the hot-or-not match-play portion – looming?
“I wouldn’t say it’s concerning,” Reed said. “We’d love to get off to a great start because if we do, we feel like we’re unstoppable. But that’s not the way we play. We like to play with our backs against the wall.”
And Gregory, for one, sees no problem with it. While he would like to find a solution to his team’s slow starts – “If I knew,” he said, “I’d be a heck of a lot better coach right now” – Gregory seems to know better. His Jaguars don’t cave when the pressure heightens. That’s part of having a team with four graduating seniors and another, Reed, who will turn pro later this summer.
“They’re just grinders,” Gregory said. “They love to prove to people that this wasn’t a fluke last year, and they just want an opportunity to win it all again. It’s a special group, and I’ll miss this group.”
And then he smiled, knowing the eventual prize. “But I want seven more rounds out of them.”
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World travelers: Southeastern Louisiana coach Tim Baldwin jokes that he’s learned more about the world just by sitting behind his desk. That’s probably true, considering he has no U.S.-born players on the roster. No, he has a guy from Chile, two from Colombia, a South African, a Swede, a German and a Frenchman, who, sad to say, isn’t in Ocala this week after a mix-up with his visas back home.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Baldwin, in his 23rd season with the program, “so I’ve kind of specialized in international recruiting for a while now. I just kind of beat the bushes and bring them in.”
For about 30 minutes Friday, Southeastern Louisiana held a share of the lead at the Southeast Regional – ahead of Florida, ahead of Oregon, ahead of Arkansas. Sure, the Lions dropped a few shots coming in, but they will head into the final round in eighth place, just three strokes back of fifth. Their surge up the leaderboard was due in no small part to the play of Philipp Westermann (69) and Rhys West, whose second-round 65 is the low round of the tournament. Westermann and West are second and fourth, respectively, in the individual race.
“This is one of the strongest teams that I’ve played on,” said West, of Johannesburg, South Africa. “We’re from all over the world, so it’s good. Everybody is from somewhere else, but we all get along really well.”
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Short shots: N.C. State’s Mitchell Sutton, who at 9-under 135 holds the individual lead by one, is searching for his second victory of the season. The sophomore from London, Ontario, also claimed medalist honors at the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate in March. … Kennesaw State’s Jeff Karlsson had an adventurous second-round 69, highlighted by a hole-in-one on the 11th but overshadowed by a triple bogey on the par-4 ninth, his final hole of the day, where a dragonfly disrupted his downswing and he was forced to play down the first fairway. He aced the 160-yard 11th with a pitching wedge.