The Tigers, looking for their first NCAA men's golf championship, shot a 1-under 287 in 95-degree heat, moving past Oklahoma State and UCLA into first place after 54 holes.
'The only thing I want them to do is realize there's more golf to play, and this thing is light years from being over,' said Clemson coach Larry Penly, whose team finished third a year ago and was runner-up in 2001.
Clemson got a 3-under 69 from Matt Hendrix and par rounds from D.J. Trahan and Jack Ferguson and stood at 24-over 888 after three rounds. Host Oklahoma State was at 889, with second-round leader UCLA and Florida tied for third at 899.
Lee Williams of Auburn retained the individual lead he has held since the start, shooting a 71 that left him at 4-under 212. That was five strokes ahead of Hunter Mahan of Oklahoma State, John Holmes of Kentucky and Chris Stroud of Lamar.
Oklahoma State is seeking its 10th national title and first since 2000.
'I think they'll welcome the opportunity to step out there tomorrow,' coach Mike Holder said. 'I've said this since before the tournament -- whichever one individual is standing at the end of 72 holes and whichever one team is standing, they'll be
Karsten Creek Golf Club, which yielded only nine sub-par rounds in the first two days, played easier Thursday when the wind remained calm.
Twenty-four players broke par, including a tournament-best 66 by Patrick Nagle of Illinois, who had six birdies and an eagle to offset one double-bogey. Nagle shot 81 and 78 the first two days.
Holmes used a 3-under 69 to get to 1-over for the tournament. U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes of Arizona shot a 70 and was at 219, tied for seventh.
Teams arrived at the course to learn the NCAA golf committee had decided to implement a 54-hole cut. Only the top 18 teams in the 30-team field will return for the final round, along with the top six individuals not on those teams.
With threesomes averaging 5 hours, 45 minutes to complete their rounds, play finished just ahead of darkness each of the first two days. That had committee members concerned about being able to finish the tournament on time, particularly if a playoff is needed to determine the team or individual winner.
'We were very concerned about the student-athlete experience and wanted all players to play all four days, but our primary responsibility is to compete the championship in timely fashion,' committee chairman Mike Carter said. 'To do this, we felt we had to have a cut.'
He said much of the problem involved players looking for balls beyond the primary rough, and unplayable lies that have often required players to return to the tee to play another ball.
'We feel very badly for those young men who wanted to play the last round,' Carter said. 'It's just one of those unfortunate circumstances.'
Among the teams affected were defending champion Minnesota and Duke, which each missed the cut by one stroke. Duke coach Rod Myers said coaches had been assured before the tournament that there would be no need for a cut.
'I keep hearing about the possibility of a playoff. What chance is there of that happening?' Myers said. 'They said they didn't think it would be a good idea to have a playoff while other teams are on the course. Who cares? I would never want to interfere with crowning the right champion, but we could have allowed everyone to finish the tournament.'
He said the best alternative would have been to reverse the field on the final day, allowing the leading teams to play early and the others to go off late.
'We've taken away a valuable experience for a lot of student-athletes,' Myers said. 'Granted, this is a punishing tournament, on this course, for a lot of teams here. But I think they'd rather go through the punishment, with a chance of improving their position, than being told to go home or go fishing.'
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