Originally created 06/04/99

Elson to advance in NCAA



CHASKA, Minn. -- Clemson is poised for another run at its first NCAA Golf Championship the next two days.

The Tigers, runners-up in the 1998 tournament and third-place finishers in 1997, are the leaders at the halfway mark of the championship being played at the demanding Hazeltine National Golf Club. It is the first time in school history Clemson has led after a round of the NCAA Championship.

The field was trimmed from 30 teams to 15 by the cut Thursday. Among the victims were Augusta State, Georgia Tech and South Carolina. South Carolina finished 20th, Augusta State 27th and Georgia Tech 28th.

This was Augusta's fifth appearance in the NCAAs. The Jaguars have made the cut once, in 1993.

Augusta State will be represented in the final 36 holes by freshman Jamie Elson, who made the cut as an individual. The top nine players on teams who failed to make the cut play the final 36 holes as individuals. Elson, who shot 70-80 -- 150, had to birdie the final hole Thursday to get in a playoff for the ninth spot. With six players going for five spots, Elson made it through with a bogey on the first playoff hole, No. 1.

Augusta State coach Jay Seawell and the rest of the team will stay on for the final two rounds to root for Elson.

"I'm looking forward to it," Elson said. "It will be different. But I'll have coach Seawell by my side on every shot if I need him. I'm looking forward to all the guys walking with me and pulling for me."

Elson, at 6-over-par 150, is nine shots behind leader Luke Donald (73-68 -- 141) of Northwestern.

Clemson leads Brigham Young by one shot and defending champion University of Nevada, Las Vegas by three. Northwestern is in fourth place, five back.

Though ranked as high as No. 1 this season and seeded fourth in this tournament, Clemson barely made it into the championship, finishing in 11th place, the last qualifying spot for the NCAAs, in the East Regional.

"We're trying to erase the memory of our last round of the regional," Clemson coach Larry Penley said.

First-round leader Oklahoma State went from a 1-over-par 289 in the first round to a 308 Thursday and dropped into a tie for fifth place with the University of Georgia. Augusta's Charles Howell, the Cowboys' top scorer in the first round with a 71, slipped to a 77 Thursday.

Augusta State's disappointing tournament ended Thursday with a 30-over-par 318, the Jaguars' high score of the season. Augusta, which came into the event riding a wave of momentum from a strong final round at the East Regional last month, finished at 49 over for the tournament.

On Thursday, Augusta counted a 76 by senior Jeff Keck, a 79 by freshman Jayce Stepp, an 80 by freshman Jamie Elson and one of the 83s by sophomore Robert Duck and freshman Michael Webb.

"I'm a little disappointed, to be honest with you, with our play today," Seawell said. "We knew it was going to be tough. We made the turn and needed to have a good back nine. We needed to shoot 2 or 3 over par, and it didn't seem like a big deal until you realize how hard the golf course is playing. I think we ran out of gas. When the guys realized it was over, they just fell apart."

For the tournament, Elson was the top Jaguar at 6-over-par 150, Stepp shot 154, Keck 159, Duck 161 and Webb 168.

The demanding 7,196-yard Hazeltine National Golf Club continued to win its battle with the top collegiate golfers in the country. Clemson had the low round of the day Thursday, a 9-over-par 297 in windy conditions. The Tigers are 14 over par for the championship.

"We played very strong coming in, and that was the difference for us," Penley said. "Throughout the day, teams struggled on the back nine, especially the last few holes. But our guys really played the last five holes well. The run we made at the end was the only way we kept it under 300."

Clemson took the lead on a day when its No. 1 player coming into the tournament, Augusta sophomore John Engler, had problems. Engler, who opened with a 73, shot 80 Thursday. His was the noncounting score since each team plays five men and counts the low four scores.

For Clemson, sophomore Lucas Glover, junior Jonathan Byrd and sophomore Jani Saari had 73s, and freshman Michael Hoey had 78.

"I can't say enough about the play of Jani Saari," Penley said. "To be our No. 5 player and shoot 73 on this day was just incredible."

No team has managed to match par at Hazeltine, site of the 1970 and 1991 U.S. Opens. The best score so far has been Oklahoma State's 1-over-par 289 Wednesday.

Georgia Tech, which won the East Regional last month, never got it going this week. The Yellow Jackets finished at 50 over par for the first two rounds as its top two players, Bryce Molder and Matt Kuchar, struggled. Molder shot 77-76 -- 153 and Kuchar had rounds of 83-77 -- 154.