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Southern Hills feels like home for Oklahoma collegians
Seven players in the PGA Championship field played college golf at nearby Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. They're rekindling their old Sooner-Cowboy rivalry, but also are feeling the love from the locals who are glad to see them return.
TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Two colors stood out to Charles Howell III at the PGA Championship in a state where he went to college and won an NCAA title.
"The orange is Oklahoma State and the red is Georgia, right?" Howell said Wednesday after his final practice round at Southern Hills. "Either way, it's a win-win."
Even while playfully dismissing the crimson of Oklahoma, Howell said he really "didn't get into that utter hatred" in the Bedlam rivalry that this week will feature seven golfers -- five from Oklahoma State and two Sooners -- in the PGA Championship field.
Scott Verplank, Hunter Mahan, 1986 PGA champion Bob Tway and Bo Van Pelt -- who made it in at the last minute as an alternate -- will also be representing Oklahoma State this week in Tulsa, about 80 miles east of the school's Stillwater campus. The field also features Anthony Kim and Todd Hamilton, who played for the Sooners.
For Howell, Southern Hills presents the second time in the year's four majors that he'll get to play on something of a home course. The Augusta, Ga., native tied for 30th at the Masters in his hometown in April.
"If we can keep coming here and Augusta, we'll be great," said Howell, who won the individual title while leading Oklahoma State to the NCAA championship in 2000.
Howell said he remains close with Van Pelt, who was his college teammate in 1998. They will frequently play practice rounds together on Tuesdays and Wednesdays leading up to tournaments "when he doesn't sleep in on me," Howell said. The other former Cowboys aren't strangers, either.
"We see each other all the time, and it's really nice," Howell said. "There is a bond there because we all did play for the same program and the same coach."
Mahan agreed that the Oklahoma State golfers maintain a brotherhood, maybe because the program has had only three coaches in its 60-year history and most of the current players on tour played under Mike Holder, who is now the university's athletic director. The Cowboys have won 10 NCAA titles, nine in the past 31 years, the most in the nation in that span.
"I think everyone really respects him and the program and what it's meant to each of them," Mahan said.
The fans clad in orange or crimson will provide the biggest edge for the golfers returning to Oklahoma this week. The tournament isn't being played on a home course for any of them.
"I've only played one tournament here, so I didn't really remember too many holes," Mahan said.
That one previous experience at Southern Hills for Mahan was a 13-stroke victory over Texas' Jason Hartwick and the rest of the field at the 2003 Big 12 Championship. He shot a 73 and then finished with rounds of 67 and 68 to finish at 2 under.
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Mahan said the course will play far differently with a PGA Championship set-up that includes more difficult rough.
"This is a major, that was a Big 12 championship. No disrespect to the Big 12 by any means, but this is the big time," Mahan said. "At this course, they've been waiting for this for a couple years, they've been getting ready for it."
Mahan has been considered a dark horse by some after a two-month surge that included his first PGA TOUR win at the Travelers Championship in June. He followed that with three more top 10 finishes -- including sixth at the Open Championship -- before tying for 22nd at last week's World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
"He's got a lot of momentum and he's playing great," Howell said. "Anytime you get hot like that, your confidence runs up and the game seems pretty easy."
Mahan grabbed the first-round lead at each of his last two events, matching the Canadian Open record with a 62 that included three eagles.
"I definitely feel like I'm trying to get stronger throughout the week," Mahan said. "I want to build rounds and build a tournament and build a week. I want to make sure I'm fresh on Sunday and ready to play."
That could be a little easier this week, with fans yelling "Go Pokes!" to help him hearken back to his college success.
"Golfers don't get many home games like this," Mahan said. "So I'm going to take advantage of it."
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.