Tide Golfers Are Third

WILLIAMSBURG, VA. – Call him a visionary. Mark Harrell was sitting on the bleacher seats set up by hole No. 18 at Williamsburg's Golden Horseshoe Golf Course talking to his coach, University of Alabama golf coach Jay Seawell. Harrell, one of five Crimson Tide golfers competing here at the 2007 NCAA Men's Golf Championships had just finished his round, coming in at 2-over par, 72.

As the two watched Alabama's remaining players on the course play out No. 18 and the round, Harrell turned to Seawell, and, in earnest said, "If I can get off to a good start, I feel like I have a 66 in me."

On Friday Harrell got off to that good start, making three birdies, one bogey and five pars on the front nine. He followed it with the same on the back and came in to the clubhouse with a 66 on his scorecard. Harrell's 4-under par round, combined with a 4-under par third round from teammate Michael Thompson and a 2-under round from Joseph Sykora helped fuel the Crimson Tide and keep its dream alive of winning a national championship. Alabama shot nine-under par as a team Friday and goes into Saturday's final round of the NCAA Championships T-3rd at 2-under (284-283-271/838) on the par 70 course.

Alabama is 10 shots back from Stanford who is 12-under, 828, and leads a surging Coastal Carolina by two shots, 830. The field was cut from 30 teams to 15 after 54 holes on Friday. There was a three-way tie for the last two spots between defending national champions Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Florida State, causing a playoff among the three. Tennessee did not make the cut. The 15 teams that made the cut include, in order, Stanford, 828, Coastal Carolina, 830, Alabama and Charlotte, 838, Georgia, 840, Georgia Tech, 843, UCLA, 846, Minnesota and Florida, 848, South Carolina and Duke, 849, Lamar and Texas, 850, and Oklahoma State and Florida State, 851.

Alabama was in 10th place and 7-over going into the third round.

"We talked for a little bit last night, the first one (team meeting) of the week," said Harrell. "We said there's two halves left in this tournament, and one of them is tomorrow (Friday's cut round). We said we just need to focus on one shot at a time and I think we did a pretty good job with that."

Only Georgia had a better round Friday, coming in at 11-under. The No. 1 ranked and No. 1 seeded Bulldogs are now two shots behind Alabama.

Harrell says Alabama's golfers were not, however, simply coming out to make the cut. They believe they can still bring home a championship.

"We were in it to win it. There's no reason to even finish second," said Harrell. "Don't get me wrong, 2nd is a good finish, but we're here to win. Second is just the first loser. We're going to go out tomorrow with the same game plan, one shot at a time and see where it takes us, try to make some birdies."

In the individual standings, there's a three-way tie for first place among Stanford's Rob Grube, Clemson's Kyle Stanley and Georgia Tech's Cameron Tringate, all at 6-under, 204.

Thompson continues to turn heads with his turnaround abilities here. At the NCAA Central Regional he opened with an 83 that placed him in 98th place. He finished fourth, just five shots out of the championship trophy. Though his rounds here have been solid, he's still showing his leaping ability. On Thursday he was 58th. By Friday evening, he was T-20th and five shots back from the leaders. Thompson shot 66 Friday, combining that with 72-71-66/209 for his scorecard going into the final round.

"Coming out today we knew that we had to shoot under par to give ourselves a chance," said the All-Southeastern Conference golfer. "Thankfully today we shot 9-under, one of the low rounds of the tournament today. We knew that we needed to shoot under par. We had the mindset of going out one shot at a time, hitting fairways, hitting greens, giving ourselves plenty of opportunities for birdies, and, just hopefully the putts would fall. And I think that was exactly what we did today.

"My goal was exactly that, trying to give myself as many opportunities as possible," said the Tucson native whose round included an eagle on No. 6, a par 5. The last five holes is where I started making my run. That's the way golf is. You just have to be patient, wait for it, make a few putts here and there. Really, a great round is just a few birdies spotted throughout the round and that's how you put a good score together. So, hopefully we can go out tomorrow and do the same thing."

Also among the top 25 individuals is Joseph Sykora who shot 2-under, 68, Friday and is even four the tournament (70-72-68/210). Sykora made par of 16 of the 18 holes and birdied Nos. 18 and 6. He's T-23rd in the standings.

Harrell's 4-under 66 places him in a T-43rds at 2-over (74-72-66/212). Matthew Swan shot 6-over Friday and is 4-over (70-68-76/214) and in a T-64th. And Gator Todd shot 1-over Friday and is T-92nd (72-74-71/217) at 7-over for the tournament.

"Mark was huge today," said Seawell who woke up with the flu on Friday morning. "Anytime you can a guy under par, it just energizes the whole team. He made a couple of birdies and it filters its way back. (Harrell was in the first group). I don't tell them anything but they see scoreboards. So for him to early get under par to kind of set a tone—and Joseph also—Joseph had 16 pars and two birdies. So those two guys kind of set the tone. And Michael started making putts on about the 15th hole. He's a great putter. When they start going in, they go in in bunches. So that turned a good round into a special round, how he played the last four holes."

Alabama goes into Saturday's final round with its eye not on placing well or being happy to have made the final cut but with the same dream it had 54 holes ago: these five men intend on bring home a national championship Saturday.

"They're not going to hand out the trophy on the first tee," said Seawell of how he'll tell his players to approach Saturday's final and biggest round of the season. "Right now Stanford and Coastal Carolina have done an incredible job of separating themselves from the rest of us. However, we're going to go out with the hope and the belief that we can win. But it's one of those things: we have to play like we did today. You can't make seven birdies on one hole. You have to patiently know that you have to play well. We'll try to keep them calm. It's the national championship. I'm sure there will be a little bit of butterflies. But that's everybody. It's a matter of who handles it the best tomorrow."

Tonight, when Seawell puts his head on the pillow, his thoughts will turn to the same thoughts he had when he put together this No. 3 ranked Tide team that has set school records and made school history with play that has included four tournament victories.

"I'll be thinking that we have a chance to win the national championship," said Seawell when asked what will be going through his mind when head meets pillow on the eve of the final round. "There are only two teams in front of us. We're in third place going into the last day. We need another round like we had today. That's doable. Our guys are starting to play and starting to feel it. There's something special in this team. We showed it today. They kind of want to run to the front of the teams. So I'll be dreaming of national championships trophies in my arms, just like all of my guys probably."

Those dreams could become reality beginning at 7:27 a.m. CT when Gator Todd is first on the No. 1 tee for Alabama in the final round. He'll be followed at 7:36 by Matthew Swan, at 7:45 by Mark Harrell, at 7:54 by Joseph Sykora and at 8:03 by Michael Thompson. Alabama is paired with Georgia and Georgia Tech in the final round.

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