Associated Press Writer
OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) (June 1) – Oklahoma State junior Charles Howell couldn’t help but wonder if he was in for another second-day slide in the NCAA Championships.
Turns out Howell had nothing to worry about. He shot a 6-under-par 66 to lead the Cowboys to a one-stroke lead over Texas on Thursday at the midway point of the 72-hole tournament at Grand National Golf Club.
Howell moved into a first-place tie with Longhorns sophomore David Gossett at 11-under 133. Gossett followed an NCAA record-tying 63 with a 70.
Howell had contributed to Oklahoma State’s past second-day NCAA troubles with rounds of 74 and 77 the past two years. The Cowboys, seeking their ninth NCAA title and first since 1995, had the lead after the first day both times.
“That probably cost us the tournament, those morning rounds,” said Howell, who birdied five holes on the back nine Thursday. “It was important for me to play well this morning.”
He had plenty of help. Senior Landry Mahan fired a 68 and is at 6 under. Freshman J.C. DeLeon lopped four shots off his first-round 74 as Oklahoma State was 12 under for the day.
“Landry’s playing great. That’s the best he’s played all year,” Howell said. “For a freshman (DeLeon) to calm down and shoot 70, that was huge too.”
Gossett, who started out on the 10th hole, began the day with a double-bogey and bogey and was 2 over after nine holes. The reigning U.S. Amateur champion recovered with an eagle on the par-5 4th hole followed by two straight birdies.
“I was a little sloppy starting off,” said Gossett, who had a 32 on the last nine holes. “But I’m proud of myself, the way I hung in there.”
“Today was special,” Texas coach John Fields said. “The team got off to a tough start and hung in there and showed a lot of courage.”
Seven players are within five strokes of the lead. Texas freshman J.J. Wall had a 71 and is three shots back. East Tennessee State’s Chris Wisler shot 68 and is 9 under. UNLV’s Jeremy Anderson and Georgia Tech’s Matt Kuchar are at 7 under, one ahead of Arizona’s Ricky Barnes.
The team competition is turning into a three-way scramble. Georgia Tech is at 14 under, eight shots up on fourth-place North Carolina. Kent is at 5 under and Houston and UNLV are at 3 under.
Texas opened the tournament with a 16-under round and eight-stroke lead over Georgia Tech. Oklahoma State answered with the big second round, while Georgia Tech has countered with rounds of 8 under and 6 under.
“(The Cowboys) played a real low round today,” Tech coach Bruce Heppler said. “Texas had one yesterday. Maybe we’ve got one left.”
The field will be cut to 15 teams and the top nine individuals after a playoff Friday morning between Northwestern and defending champion Georgia. Both are 6 over.
Last year’s individual winner, Northwestern’s Luke Donald, also has struggled a bit. He’s at 2-under 142.
There were 15 player below par in hot, nearly windless conditions on the 7,003-yard, par-72 course. By comparison, only three players were under par at the 36-hole mark last year at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
The favorable conditions left the trailing teams and players with hopes for a quick resurgence.
“At this golf course anyone can make a big score and catch a 20-under team,” said Jason Dufner of nearby Auburn, which made the cut at 2 over. “It will be tough to do in two rounds, though.”
Texas has a much less daunting task. Just ask Gossett.
“A one-shot deficit is nothing,” he said. “This is only halftime.”