COLLEGE GOLF ROUNDUP: Darton golfers steady on Day 2 of NJCAA nationals, move up to 7th place overall; GSW's Griffin in hunt at D-II nationals

Darton sophomore Austin McNeill shot a 1-under 71 on Day 2 of the NJCAA National Championships on Wednesday, pulling Darton to within 12 shots of the leader.

Darton sophomore Austin McNeill shot a 1-under 71 on Day 2 of the NJCAA National Championships on Wednesday, pulling Darton to within 12 shots of the leader.

GSW star golfer Griffin six back of lead at NCAA D-II National Championships

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — J.P. Griffin hit the ball well on Monday and played smart golf Tuesday.

If he can put it all together today, the Georgia Southwestern junior golfer thinks he can make a run at a national title.

Griffin, the Hurricanes’ lone representative in the Division II National Championship at Cardinal Club golf Course, shot a 3-under 69 in Tuesday’s second round and is six shots back from the lead and tied for eighth heading into today’s final round.

“I played pretty good (Tuesday),” said Griffin, who shot an even-par 72 in Monday’s opening round. “I feel like (Monday) I made some mental mistakes and didn’t get much out of my round. I hit it better (Monday) but played smarter (Tuesday).”

Griffin is the first GSW golfer to ever appear in the national championship, which he qualified for by finishing runner-up in last week’s regional tournament. His round Tuesday was highlighted by six birdies — including two on his final three holes.

“He played two solid rounds with good ball striking,” GSW coach Andrew Danna said. “He is giving himself a chance (today), which is what you want going into the last day.”

Griffin was tied for 23rd place in the 108-player field after Round 1 on Monday and will be chasing leader Josh Creel from Central Oklahoma in today’s final 18 holes. Creel eagled No. 17 to finish Day 2 with a 2-under 70 and grab the lead in the tourney with an overall 9-under 135. He holds a one-shot lead over Eric Frazzetta from Chico State, who shot a blistering 9-under 63 in the second round.

NEWTON, Kan. — Joe Sakulpolphaisan has been the face of Darton golf all season, and sophomore teammate Shad Tuten hasn’t been far behind.

So where did Austin McNeill come from?

“He’s been here the whole time,” Darton coach Bill Jones III said.

McNeill has sure showed up at the NJCAA Division I national golf tournament, where he shot a 1-under 71 during Wednesday’s second round to lead the seventh-ranked Cavs. Midway through the four-day tournament, McNeill is tied for second overall individually at 2-under, and the Cavs are in seventh place as a team — nine shots back of leader Indian Hills after firing a 295 on Wednesday.

“I didn’t even realize I was in (second place),” McNeill told The Herald by telephone minutes after his round ended. “But I’m not worried about how I am doing individually. It’s in the back of my mind, but I am worried about the team. We are looking good for (today). Everybody has a pumped-up attitude about (Wednesday’s round).”

Sakulpolphaisan, the nation’s top-ranked junior college golfer, bogeyed his final two holes to shoot a 2-over 74, which puts him at even par for the tournament and in 10th place. Tuten, the team’s No. 2 golfer, started the round with back-to-back birdies but had a rough back nine to finish with a 1-over 73.

Freshmen Chase Jones and Neil Graham, who brought down Darton’s team score Tuesday with disappointing rounds, rebounded Wednesday with a pair of 5-over 77s.

The Cavs began the second round in a tie for eighth place and eight shots back of the lead and came out on fire, jumping all the way into third place after six holes.

“We saw better golf from everybody at points (Wednesday), which was good to see,” Jones said. “But our problem has been finishing rounds.”

The Cavs were 5-under as a team after the first six holes and made the turn at even par, but then the challenging Sand Creek Station Golf Course, which will play host to the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in 2014, got the best of them.

“A lot of it is fatigue and getting ahead of themselves,” Jones said. “The last few holes aren’t that difficult, but it doesn’t take much to shoot a horrible score on a hole at this golf course. There were just a few bad shots, and we paid the price for it pretty big.”

Not many of those bad shots were coming from McNeill, who birdied his final three holes to climb from outside of the Top 10 to two shots back of leader Mathias Boesmans from Western Texas.

“There were times I wasn’t hitting the ball well (Wednesday), but I turned them into pars instead of big numbers,” McNeill said. “I was able to scrape out a decent round. As a team, we aren’t out of it because we all have the capability to go low. We just need to focus because we definitely aren’t out of it.”

Nobody is counting out the Cavs, who won NJCAA Division II national titles in 2005, ’06 and ’07 and have the skill to climb all the way to the top of the leaderboard — and that skill starts with Sakulpolphaisan, who finished runner-up in last year’s national tournament and is looking to lead the Cavs to their first Division I national title before he takes his talent and calm demeanor to Mississippi State next season. The native of Thailand has struggled to get his putter going this week and has just five birdies in his first two rounds, despite staying accurate off the tee.

Sakulpolphaisan and the Cavs tee off at noon today with New Mexico Junior College and Meridian Community College, the top-ranked team in the nation.