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Golf: USC, Clemson play role reversal

A year ago, South Carolina’s golf team was seen as a post-season long shot shipped all the way across the country — then wound up winning the NCAA West Regional.

Meanwhile, Clemson stayed in the East, but missed advancing to the NCAA Championship for the only second time since 1983.

In nine days, the two arch-rivals will try things from each other’s 2007 perspective.

Coach Bill McDonald’s 12th-ranked Gamecocks earned the No. 3 seed Monday in the NCAA East Regional, as 81 teams and 18 individuals (27 and six per regional) were named to the national playoffs.

The Gamecocks, with top seed Georgia and No. 2 Charlotte (the Atlantic 10 champion) go to Council Fire Golf Club in Chattanooga, Tenn., hoping to repeat their 2007 success, when they finished No. 11 in the national finals. Duke, Chattanooga (Southern Conference winners) and Auburn are the regional’s other top six seeds.

Also headed to Chattanooga is Big South Conference champion Coastal Carolina, which received the regional’s No. 20 seed.

Clemson, which lost a playoff for the East Regional’s final spot in the finals a year ago, will pack its bags for Bremerton, Wash., and the NCAA West Regional. The Tigers, ranked 14th, are the No. 5 seed.

All three regionals are May 15-17.

McDonald, who played Council Fire as a professional when the course hosted the PGA Tour’s now-defunct Chattanooga Classic, said the course should be challenging for his team.

“Any time a course hosts a Tour event, it’s a good golf course,” he said. “The rough will be tough and the greens fast. (But) I love it because it’s close by, so a lot of our fans can come see us.”

Clemson and ACC champion Florida State join West Coast teams Southern Cal (the No. 1 seed), UCLA, Stanford and UNLV among the top six seeds at Golf Mountain Golf Course.

SEC champion Alabama, the nation’s top-ranked team and coached by S.C. native Jay Seawell, is the Central’s No. 1 seed, followed by Big 12 Conference champ and perennial powerhouse Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Florida, Tennessee, Lamar and Wake Forest among the top seven selections.

South Carolina wrapped up a strong spring by finishing second in the SEC Championship, the Gamecocks’ best conference finish since 1998. Bill McDonald’s team also placed third, tied for second, third and fourth in its final four regular-season events.

All-SEC picks George Bryan IV and Mark Anderson paced USC down the stretch, with Bryan tying for second individually at the SEC and Anderson tying for 15th. Mark Silvers tied for seventh and Columbia’s Warren Thomas tied for 12th in the conference tournament.

“We all feel we’ve got a shot to contend” in NCAA regional play and, if they advance, in the finals, Anderson, a senior, said. “We’re one of the best teams in the SEC, and the SEC is very good this year. We’re not coming in under the radar this time.”

USC enters regional play with the nation’s seventh-best head-to-head record (279-8), including a 15-8 mark vs. top-25 teams. Clemson had the No. 14 head-to-head record (272-15), though the Tigers were 7-14 vs. the top 25.

“We need to putt the ball better,” Clemson coach Larry Penley said. “If we’ve got a constant weakness, it’s been the putter. You see the amount of putts Florida State made (in winning the ACC Tournament), it’s incredible. That’s the difference.”

USC will take Bryan, Anderson, Silvers, Warren and junior Patrick Cunning to the regional. Clemson’s five players include All-ACC pick Kyle Stanley, Ben Martin, David May, Phillip Mollica and Sam Saunders.

The top nine teams in each regional advance to the NCAA Championship, May 28-31 at Purdue’s Kamden Course.

Reach senior writer Bob Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.

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