Ranked 14th this week after narrowly qualifying for this year's nationals at the NCAA East Regional at the Auburn University Club, the Tigers are not one of the favorites in the 72-hole event at the challenging par 72, 7,301-yard Karsten Creek Golf Club. However, Coach Mike Griffin's team is expected to play better than in 2002 when the Tigers hit the skids to finish in a tie for 28th with Georgia Southern, beating only VCU in the 30-team field.
This is the 12th NCAA Championship appearance for the Auburn men's golf team and the third in the past four seasons. Auburn was 14th in 2000. AU's best finish is a seventh nationally in 1994.
Auburn is one of eight SEC squads in the field of 30 full teams plus individual qualifiers from six other universities. The Tigers are joined by SEC teams Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Jay Mundy is the only senior in the Auburn lineup.
The Tigers will get an early start with an 8:30 a.m. tee time on Tuesday in a pairing with San Diego State and Wichita State. The Tiger lineup features sophomore Will Claxton from Swainsboro, Ga., junior Jonathan Dismuke Calhoun City, Miss., junior Tyler McKeever from Auburn, senior Jay Mundy from Augusta, Ga., and junior Lee Williams from Alexander City.
"It is an extremely strong field," Griffin said on Monday. "We've played against some of the top teams every other week, all year long. We know what they can do. Clemson is going to be hard to handle--Wake Forest and Florida from our area of the country. From this part of the country, Oklahoma State--it's their home course and they should be playing pretty well. Texas is also another very strong team. From the West Coast, UCLA is extremely strong. They could make a showing here quickly. They won the West Regional."
Top-ranked Clemson slam-dunked the field at the Auburn University Club in the NCAA East Regional by shooting a team total 25-under-par 839 total to defeat Georgia Tech by nine strokes. Auburn shot an 877 to finish 10th in the final qualifying position.
This is Auburn's second trip to the Karsten Creek Golf club this season. Back in November in a two-day NCAA preview, the Tigers finished fourth behind Augusta State, Clemson and Arizona in a field that featured 15 teams who have qualified for the 2003 NCAA Championship. McKeever took eighth place individually with rounds of 74-75-71. Mundy shot rounds of 72-72-77 to finish 10th.
After watching his team's Monday practice round, Griffin said, "By the time we got to our final nine, most of them were getting a pretty good idea of where their problems were going to come from. We have to keep things slow and not rush things. I think the numbers are going to be high for the field. No individual is going to have four great rounds. I would be very surprised if one individual shoots under par for all four rounds on this golf course.
"I would think the strongest players are really excited to be here because this course is going to weed out the players that aren't contenders right off the bat."
Griffin added, "As for where we stack up, Lee Williams is playing quite well right now. Tyler had a terrible regional, but he's back hitting it well and he had a Top 10 finish here (in the preview). I know he's got good thinking in his mind. Jay also had a (10th-place) finish here at the preview so he's probably got a good feel for the course as well. It just depends on how the guys down the line end up playing. If Claxton can get his game together and keep the ball in play and play his short game, his scoring ability can take hold and he can have a round or two that could be very good. Dismuke is a very solid competitor. He'll fight tooth and nail to get the best of it he can.
Mike Griffin is in his 19th season as head coach of the Tigers. He was SEC Coach of the Year last season after the Tigers won the 2002 league title.,
"We'll have to put up at least three very good scores every day and hope that the fourth score is not one that's going to hurt you," Griffin noted. The Auburn women's team struggled at last week's nationals by never having four strong rounds to count on any day and finished 10th, seven spots below its national ranking.
"Every team is going to have some high numbers," Griffin predicts. "Every individual here is going to have some bad holes. The course is not going to allow you to go around without making some mistakes."
Griffin said a tough course may be good for his Tigers. "Primarily as a group over the last few years we as a team have played better when par as a score has meant something," he said. "We haven't entered very many birdie contests successfully. We just don't seem to have that kind of personality of a team right now, but on a golf course where par means something we've been a pretty good team and have people who can battle to get a score."
Last year the Tigers tied with Georgia Southern for next to last at 1,182 as Minnesota won the team title with an 1,134 total, four shots better than Georgia Tech and eight ahead of Clemson and Texas. That event was played at Ohio State University's Scarlet Course.
Auburn's top scorer last year, Kevin Haefner, shot rounds of 70-72-76-74 to finish in a tie for 74th at 292. Mundy shot a 293, Williams a 297, Dismuke a 305 and Claxton tied for 155th with a 310.
At the NCAA Preview this season, Auburn's 894 total was 11 shots off the pace set by Augusta State.