Playing without their two best players in Lee Williams and Tyler McKeever, who both redshirted this season, the Tigers failed to finish better than sixth in any tournament this year until winning the Billy Hitchcock Invitational in early April. That kicked-started a run that included a third-place finish at the SEC Championships and qualifying for nationals. Coach Mike Griffin said this team has been one for the ages as far as he's concerned.
"We generated a whole lot of excitement after that first round," Griffin said. "We were all excited and really enjoying the moment when we were up there at the top. We were also very disappointed with the two rounds we put behind it, but we have to learn from all of that. We have to learn how much fun it is to be at the top, but how much work it takes in order not to just get there but stay there. We have to work harder.
"It was disappointing that we went backwards, but there is no doubt in my mind that this group came further than team I have ever had in 31 years of coaching. They came from nowhere to somewhere. We're in a pairing with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma today, two genuine top-10 teams, and we're fighting for a top-15 berth in the national championship. That's pretty remarkable. Even though we're a little disappointed right now I told them not to look down because this was a remarkable year for them."
Leading the way for the Tigers this week was Jonathan Dismuke, the only senior on the squad. Dismuke's 75 on Thursday left him at +7 for three days, just ahead of teammate Andrew Medley who had a 73 to finish +9. Stuart Moore (75), Matthew Myers (75) and Will Claxton (76) rounded out the Auburn scoring for the day. Griffin said that the leadership of Dismuke this week and all season has been the difference for a young and inexperienced team.
"We're going to miss Diz," Griffin said of Dismuke. "He did a great job for us all year long. He led us through thick and thin and helped everybody get just a little bit better. I think he rubbed off on all the folks. It's going to be tough to turn him over. It's going to be very disappointing to me, but he gave me five great years. I'm looking forward to watching the rest of his career now that he's got a jump start on it."
While Auburn didn't make a run at the title, another SEC team is doing just that with the Kentucky Wildcats in good shape going into the final round. Led by Matt Wells' six-under par total, the Cats are in second place at +12, just five shots behind leader UCLA. The Bruins are looking to make it a double after the women won the NCAA title at Grand National just over one week ago.
California (+15), Washington (+16), Arizona (+16), Florida (+18), Pepperdine (+20), BYU (+21), Georgia Tech (+21), Texas (+23), Texas A&M (+27), Georgia State (+29), Penn State (+30), Oklahoma State (+30) and Purdue (+30) round out the 15 qualifiers for the final round. Purdue beat the Trojans (+30) in a playoff for the final spot in the field.
UNLV's Ryan Moore holds the individual lead after firing a 64 on Thursday. His three-day total of 201 (-9) is two shots better than Chris Nallen from Arizona and three ahead of Wells. Ben Hogan Award winner Bill Haas, the son of PGA Tour veteran Jay Haas, shot a 67 and is four shots back of the lead. Dismuke was Auburn's top finisher in a tie for 39th.