CHASKA, Minn. -- A team finally broke par at the challenging Hazeltine National Golf Club, thanks in large part to an Augustan.
Sophomore Charles Howell fired a 2-under-par 70 as Oklahoma State turned in a 3-under-par 285 Friday to take a five-shot lead in the NCAA Golf Championship. The final round is scheduled for today.
Prior to the 285, the best round of the event was a 289, by Oklahoma State, in the first round.
"If we shoot under par again, we'll definitely win it," Howell said. "The golf course is such that par is a good score. This is by far the hardest course I've ever played. People don't realize how hard the conditions are. Last year, 34 under par won this tournament (in Albuquerque, N.M.). We're 18 over and leading by five. That right there tells you how tough the course is."
The Cowboys, who are seeking their ninth national championship but first since 1995, were paced by Edward Loar's 69. Howell had his 70, Peter Davidson 72 and Landry Mahan 74. Anders Hultman's 77 didn't count since the teams played five men and counted the low four scores.
"We're all playing good," Howell said. "We know we're leading and we're looking forward to playing tomorrow and having another shot at the course to see how well we can play."
Howell has been the Cowboys' top player this week. He's tied for fourth place individually after rounds of 71-77-70 -- 218 and trails individual leader Luke Donald of Northwestern by five shots. Howell had three birdies and one bogey on Friday.
Augusta State freshman Jamie Elson, who made the cut as an individual as the team failed to advance, shot a 75 on Friday. South Carolina's John Bloomfield, who also was one of the nine individuals to make the cut, had an 83.
Elson is tied for 27th place, but is only two shots out of 15th place. The top 15 finishers earn All-American honors. In Elson's case, he would make honorable mention All-American.
"That was my goal at the start of the week," Elson said. "I hope to be able to rise to the challenge and make it."
Elson, who had four bogeys and one birdie, was followed during his round by Augusta State coach Jay Seawell and his teammates.
"It was kind of weird standing on the putting green and hitting balls by myself," Elson said. "I enjoyed it and the guys enjoyed it."
Oklahoma State led after its 289 on Wednesday, then dropped back into a tie for fifth place with a 308 on Thursday. With the 285 on Friday, the Cowboys are five shots ahead of Georgia, 10 ahead of Northwestern and 11 up on BYU and Clemson, the leader at the halfway mark.
Clemson, whose No. 1 player coming into the championship was Augustan John Engler, shot a 303 on Friday after opening with a 293 and following that with a 298.
Engler struggled for the second straight day. The former Richmond Academy golfer followed his opening 73 with an 80 on Thursday and a 79 on Friday. Unlike Thursday, however, his score counted for the Tigers on Friday. Clemson counted a 73 by Jonathan Byrd, a 74 by Lucas Glover, a 77 by Jani Saari and Engler's 79. Michael Hoey's 80 was thrown out.
Clemson is seeking its first NCAA title. The Tigers finished second in 1998 and third in 1997.
Coming out of Westminster School as the No. 1-ranked golfer in the country, Howell had his pick of colleges. He choose Oklahoma State because of its traditionally strong golf program.
"I went out here for this," Howell said. "It was with the hope to play with guys that could win a national championship. Now we've done all we can do. We've put ourselves in a position to win. This tournament is so good because as a player, you only get four chances to win it."
Oklahoma State not only has the lead going into today's final round, but the Cowboys also have a mental edge over the other 14 teams. Oklahoma State won the Ping/Golfweek Preview tournament at this same course in the fall by eight shots over Georgia.
"I think it's a definite advantage because we were leading by two or three shots entering the final round then and played well in the final round," Howell said. "There are still four or five teams that could win tomorrow. Whoever wins will be the team that has the most patience."
Howell was the tournament medalist in the Ping/Golfweek Preview, shooting rounds of 74-69-73 -- 216.
"The rough is taller than it was in the fall, but the main difference is the wind," Howell said. "When we played in the fall, the wind wasn't blowing at all. It's blown every day this week. The course is playing very hard."
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