Southeast: Transfer gets So. Ala. into hunt
Leader: Clemson (1-over 561)
Individual leader: BYU’s Robbie Fillmore (3-under 137)
The top 5: 2. Oklahoma State (564); 3. Georgia Tech (573); T-4. BYU, South Alabama (576)
Close behind: T-6. Arkansas, Arizona State (578); 8. Georgia Southern (581)
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South Alabama barely made it into the postseason. Now, the Jaguars are in contention for the first NCAA Championship bid in school history, all thanks to an unlikely round from a left-handed transfer.
The Jaguars shot 284 Friday, an eight-shot improvement from the first round, and are tied for fourth at 16 over par. They are this regional’s 12th-seeded team.
South Alabama’s No. 3 player, Chris Piumelli, shot 66 Friday, one day after a 77.
“Yesterday was a grind for me,” Piumelli said. “Today, I had a much better chance because I was hitting fairways.”
The Jaguars, at No. 83 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, had to win the Sun Belt Conference to earn a postseason bid.
South Alabama was four shots off the lead heading to the final round of the Sun Belt Conference Championship, but shot a final-round 282 to win by six. South Alabama is making its first postseason appearance since 2005.
“We played well the last day at conference,” Piumelli said. “It was great because it gave us a lot of momentum, and we just kept it rolling.”
Piumelli, No. 501 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, transferred to South Alabama this season. He was a member of South Carolina’s team the past two years, but didn’t play any tournaments.
A tweak in his address helped Piumelli play better Friday, said South Alabama coach Ben Hannan. Piumelli was slightly closed at address, with the ball too forward in his stance. Hannan and Piumelli fixed the issue on the range after the first round.
Piumelli made a 40-foot birdie putt on his second hole, No. 11, then followed up with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 13th. He made three birdies on his second nine, all on putts inside 5 feet.
South Alabama’s most famous golf alumnus, Heath Slocum, lives in Alpharetta, the same town as the Crabapple Course.
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COUGAR TOWN: BYU’s Robbie Fillmore has the individual lead at 3-under 137. He’s good at handling tough tracks. Fillmore was the medalist at the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst.
Fillmore has four top 5s this spring, including a victory at the Fresno State Lexus Golf Classic.
“This golf course, it’s a big golf course, it’s kind of a mean golf course, but it’s very playable from the right spots,” Fillmore said. “I picked my opportunities to fire at the flags, and was really conservative on other holes. Out here, even with a pitching wedge, or even with a 9-iron, 15 to 20 feet can be really good because 4 or 5 feet the wrong direction, and you’re toast.
“It’s a fine line to walk.”
Fillmore also has his team in good shape. The Cougars are tied for fourth with one round remaining. BYU, this regional’s ninth-seeded team, is making its first regional appearance since 2007, and seeking its first NCAA Championship bid since 2006.
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FIGHT TO THE FINISH: It should be a tight race for the final team spots out of this regional. Host Georgia Tech is in third place at 13 over par. Arkansas and Arizona State are tied for sixth at 18 over. That means there are five teams separated by five shots that are battling for the final three spots.
The difficult closing holes at Capital City’s Crabapple Course will determine who advances. Here’s what teams will have to deal with down the stretch.
• No. 15: 220-yard, par 3. Players must hit a long iron or hybrid to this elevated green that is protected on both sides by deep bunkers.
• No. 16: 486-yard, par 4. This hole plays as a par 5 for the members. The fairway is protected by bunkers on both sides. The green has a steep fall-off on its right side.
• No. 17: 451-yard, par 4. This is the easiest of the bunch, as it plays well downhill, but still no bargain.
• No. 18: 466-yard, par 4. This dogleg left is capped off by a treacherous green.
Arizona State, No. 14 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, handled those late holes quite well to get back into contention for an NCAA Championship bid. The Sun Devils’ four scorers were even par on that stretch Friday.
“It’s an interesting team because it seems like only when there’s urgency do they respond well,” said head coach Randy Lein. “And there’s an urgency. They know we have two shots to pick up. It’s been disappointing for me because we’ve been underachieving. It’s a talented group, but we just haven’t put it together.
“I’m hoping we can get back to the Honors Course, which has special meaning for me because I won a national title there.”
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Georgia Southern’s Logan Blondell had an earphone in one ear as he was on the first tee, waiting to tee off. He likes to listen to music as long as possible before teeing off. His artist of choice? Lil’ Wayne.
The strategy works for him. Blondell shot a second consecutive 69 and is in second at 2-under 138.