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After missing the NCAA golf tournament last year for the first time in two decades, the BYU golf team put itself in good position to get back to the NCAAs this year.

The Cougars stand third in the 16-team field after the initial 18 holes of the 54-hole Western Golf Regional played Thursday at the El Paso Country Club.Led by senior Rafael Ponce's 68, the Cougars fired a team total of 282. Nationally ranked teams USC and Arizona stand 1-2 at 273 and 280, respectively, while No. 1-ranked Arizona State is fourth at 284.

Utah is tied for 13th at 294 with host UTEP, while Weber State is another shot back at 295. The fifth through the 16th-place teams are bunched within nine strokes of each other.

The top nine teams will advance to the NCAAs June 7-10 at Edmond, Okla.

The leading individual is USC's Chris Gonzales, who fired a 66. Ponce is one of five players at 68.

The top score for Utah was Matt Johnson's 71, while Weber was led by Chuck Eble's 70.