WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (May 29, 2008)--Kyle Stanley shot a 4-under par 68 to lead one of Clemson's greatest in-round comebacks in history on Thursday morning at the 111th NCAA Men's Golf Championship at Purdue University's Kampen Course. The Tigers held a one stroke lead over UCLA after the completion of play in the morning wave of teams. Clemson is first at 589, one shot ahead of UCLA and two shots ahead of Southern California.
Billy Horschel had the University of Florida's round of the first day, carding an even-par 72 and followed that up with a 5-under 67 to take the lead in the individual title race at 139. He is one-stroke clear of Clemson's Kyle Stanley and two ahead of Washington's Nick Taylor. Kevin Chappell of UCLA and Hudson Swafford of Georgia are in fifth at 142.
“Billy (Horschel) is one of the best players in the country and may not have had as good of a year as he would like but he stepped up at regionals when we needed him,” said Gators head coach Buddy Alexander. “He stepped up today because that is what big time players do and it’s what All-Americans do so I am not surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play solid all week long.”
Clemson played the back nine, its first nine holes of the day in 11 over par and found itself tied for 15th place at 24 over par for the tournament. But, the Tigers played the front nine, their second of the day, in 11 under par to finish at even par 288 for the round and 13 over par for the tournament. Clemson and Stanford had the top rounds of the morning wave of teams.
Clemson had a 288 figure on Thursday, 13 shots better than its 301 on Wednesday. It was the best improvement by a Tigers golf team at the NCAA Championships since a 15 stroke improvement on the same day five years ago. Clemson went from a 302 to a 287 for a 15-stroke improvement from the second to the third rounds on May 29, 2003. That was a key round in Clemson's drive to the 2003 National Championship.
If the Tigers hold the lead after Thursday's play it will be the first time the squad has had the lead after a round of the NCAA Golf Championship since it won the 2003 tournament at Oklahoma State. Clemson also had the midway lead at Hazeltine in Chaska, MN in 1999.
All five Tigers golfers improved by at least four shots from their first nine to the second nine, including Sam Saunders who shot a 40 on the back nine, but came back with a 34 on the front nine.
"This was the tale of two nines," said Clemson Head Coach Larry Penley, who is celebrating his Silver Anniversary as the school's head coach. "We made seven double bogeys on the first nine (five that counted towards the team score) and I was looking at the scoreboard wondering what place 25 to 28 over par would be after two rounds. I was thinking about the cut, not leading the golf tournament.
"Then we started making birdies, a consistent run of birdies by all five players. It started with a couple of guys making birdies on one, then a couple more on two. Then Kyle (Stanley) and Phillip (Mollica) made incredible birdies on the par five fourth hole. Phillip made an eagle on six, Kyle birdied seven, Phillip birdied eight and Sam Saunders birdied nine. The key was we didn't make any bogeys along the way. All of a sudden we went from 15th to first in nine holes.
"It was a great experience for our golf team. We always talk about not giving up and that anything can happen in a college golf tournament. Today they experienced that first hand. It was a very impressive performance today. The second nine holes put us in position where we have a chance to win this tournament. That is all you ask from your team."
Stanley started the day with birdies on his first two holes, the 10th and 11th holes on the course. He then made a double bogey on the 12th hole, but he did not allow that to ruin his round. In fact, it was the only blemish on his card all day. He then made a birdie on the par three second hole and followed with a key birdie on the par five fourth hole.
"That birdie on the fourth hole was a key for me. I hit my second shot short and had a down hill lie in the rough. But, I got the third shot on the green and made about a 20 foot putt for birdie." Stanley then made birdie on the 600-yard par-five sixth hole when he got up-and-down from just off the green. He made another birdie on the seventh hole and made par on the eighth and ninth holes.
Mollica had a rough start and was four-over par at the turn, including a bogey on the difficult 18th hole when he drove the ball in the right rough near a tree. The fourth hole also turned his round around. He drove the ball into the rough near a storage shed on the right side of the fairway and took a drop off a cart path. His second shot found the rough 80 yards from the green. But, like Stanley, he had a difficult down hill lie. He did have a lot of green to work with and hit the ball right at the pin and it came to rest 10 feet behind the hole. He then made the putt for birdie.
Mollica then made an eagle on the par-five sixth hole when he chipped in from off the green from 15 feet. It was the first eagle of the day for any player on that hole and the first eagle of the tournament for any Clemson golfer. The native of Anderson, SC now leads the Tigers in eagles this year with five.
David May and Sam Saunders both recorded their own comeback stories on Thursday and both finished with rounds of two-over par 74. May had a 39 on the back side, then improved to 35 on the front. He made a birdie on the first hole, his 10th hole of the day, then made par the rest of the way to finish at 74. He had a double bogey five on the 17th hole, but he did not allow that to ruin his round. It was significant improvement over his first round 80.