AUBURN, Ala. - He hasn't won a golf tournament since his high school days. Yet, Clemson redshirt junior Matt Hendrix played his way into contention on one of college golf's grandest stages Friday.
Hendrix, of Aiken, fired a second-round, 5-under-par 67 at the Auburn University Club at Yarbrough Farms and is in second place, two shots behind leader Troy Matteson of Georgia Tech in the NCAA East Regional. The final round of the 54-hole event will start this morning.
"I put myself (in contention) a few times this year," said Hendrix, whose best collegiate finish is fourth. "It's just a matter of putting a good round together and getting some putts to fall. I just have to keep hitting it solid and play smart."
Sparked by Hendrix's play, Clemson shot the round of the day at 11-under 277. At 14-under through 36 holes, the Tigers are one of three teams below par in the 27-team tournament. Clemson leads Georgia Tech (281-286) by five shots and Tennessee (281-291) by 10.
"Today was real good; it was a round we needed," Clemson coach Larry Penley said. "You don't want to mess around with the bubble. ... Once you get on that bubble, it's real hard to climb off. The pressure just consumes you."
Pressure is what Augusta State will have to deal with. The Jaguars shot a second-straight 290 and stands in seventh place, four shots ahead of 11th-place Georgia State. The top 10 teams after today's final round will advance to the NCAA Championships, May 27-30.
"We played really well for (16) holes," Augusta State coach Josh Gregory said. "We had a chance for some separation ... We've made it a little closer than we'd like.
"(Today) will be a good test."
After shooting 5-over on the final two holes Thursday, Augusta State repeated the pattern Friday. The Jaguars shot 5-over on Nos. 8 and 9, the last two holes of their round, sliding from 3-under to 2-over.
James Heath (71) and Emmett Turner (72) turned in solid rounds for Augusta State. Heath, who set a school record for 36 holes in a regional, is tied for eighth at 140, five shots off the pace. At 142, Turner is seven shots back in a tie for 17th, while Oliver Wilson (73) is tied for 54th at 148. Kalle Edberg carded a 74 and is tied for 66th, and Scott Jamieson shot 80 and is tied for 116th.
"They're a little disappointed, as well they should be," Gregory said. "But this is nothing more than a qualifier. There's no difference between first place and 10th place."
Try telling that to a Clemson team that tamed the course. Jack Ferguson and D.J. Trahan added a pair of 69s to Hendrix's round, and Gregg Jones came in at even-par.
"You've got to go out there full throttle and try to beat everybody as much as you can," Hendrix said. "After seeing the course (Thursday) and playing two rounds, we feel real comfortable. There's a lot of birdies out here to be made."
Hendrix began the day on No. 10 and promptly made short birdie putts on the first two holes. He continued his birdie binge and was 6-under through 15 holes before getting up and down from 180 yards for bogey on the par-5 seventh hole.
"He's one of (our) heroes," Penley said. "Jack (Ferguson) and Matt have been our unsung heroes. They're two great players. (Hendrix) just hasn't won. When he does, you're going to see him win two, three, four tournaments."
Aside from Hendrix, College of Charleston's Kyle Bradley heads a list of Augusta-area golfers after shooting 73 to stand at 145. South Carolina's Alex Hamilton (70) and Wake Forest's Cortland Lowe (72) are at 146, while Auburn teammates Will Claxton (75) and Jay Mundy are at 147. Georgia Tech's Adam Cranford is at 150 after shooting 78.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222, ext. 114.