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By RAY McCARTHY
EUGENE, Ore. – Azahara Munoz and Belen Mozo have spent their week at the U.S. Women’s Amateur as any best friends would.
They’ve followed each other’s matches and cheered at the appropriate times, followed by the requisite hug afterward. At night, the two Spaniards have dined on the American-style cuisine their host family has prepared and scrolled through an endless array of pictures.
Tomorrow, the inseparable pair will face off in the semifinals of amateur golf’s biggest event.
“It’s going to be awkward,” Munoz said. “”It’s going to be awkward because I have to play her, but it’s going to be normal because I’m going to be talking.
“It’s not like I’m not going to talk to her.”
Mozo and Munoz took nearly identical routes through their quarterfinal matches Friday.
Munoz dispatched of stroke-play co-medalist Stephanie Na, 7 and 6, in the first match of the day. An approach that stuck to a few feet on the first hole set the tone for what would be a cruise-control match for Munoz, though she denies it.
“I didn’t relax,” Munoz said. “Because she was 3 down (yesterday) through 11 and then she won. And I was 2-down yesterday with four to play, and I won. So I never relaxed.”
After tying for medalist honors, Na relied on persistence and magic tricks to fight her way to the quarterfinals. She trailed Sydney Burlison 3-down through six holes in their Round of 16 match Thursday but eventually clawed out a 2-and-1 win.
The Australian’s non-existent game – combined with a relentless attack from Munoz – undid her in the end.
“I didn’t have my game with me today to beat her or to even really compete with her,” said Na, Australia’s top-ranked amateur. “The past few matches, I got away with pars. This was a different level of golf.”
Next up for Na will be the World Amateur Team Championship in October.
Munoz, who won the NCAA Championship earlier this year when she topped UCLA’s Tiffany Joh in a playoff, can become the first player to win both the NCAA title and U.S. Women’s Amateur since Vicki Goetze achieved that feat in 1992.
Standing in Munoz’s way will be Mozo, a sister-like best friend since the two were children.
Mozo won five of the last six holes in her match with Virginia junior Whitney Neuhauser en route to a 6-and-5 victory. The Spaniard credited a hot putter in her win.
“If you start putting well, the rest of the game comes along,” said Mozo, who finished fourth, three shots behind Munoz at NCAAs. “I call it magic. It leaves and it comes whenever it wants.”
The two friends downplayed the importance of their semifinal match tomorrow.
“We are best friends. And obviously tomorrow we want to win, each of us,” Mozo said. “We kind of just, I don’t know, change our attitude. She plays better and wins, awesome. If I do, awesome, too.”
The only other time the two met in a match-play setting was at the Spanish International Amateur five years ago. Mozo came away with the win.
Carlota Ciganda, the third member of what people have been calling “The Spanish Armada,” said she will follow her two friends just as closely as she would if they were playing someone else.
“It’s going to be nice because they are my friends,” Ciganda said. “I would like both to win, but it’s impossible, but… one of them is going to win the final, so it’s nice.”
Ciganda fell victim to college golf’s top-ranked player, Amanda Blumenherst, who continues to dismantle opponents and Eugene Country Club with her unmatched length.
Blumenherst was 4 up through nine holes and eventually cruised to a 4-and-3 win over Ciganda. Paramount to Blumenherst is improving on a runner-up finish in last year’s Women’s Am when she suffered a 1-down loss to Maria Jose Uribe in the finals.
“The only difference (between this year and last year)… every girl I knew, even the college level or junior golf or something,” Blumenherst said. “And this year, I’ve never played with any, except Lizette (in the first round).
“It’s kind of nice not knowing.”
Blumenherst may not know her next opponent, but 15-year-old Erynne Lee definitely knows who Blumenherst is. Lee will even break her nightly ritual of researching opponents because she knows enough about the college superstar.
“I already know a lot about Amanda,” Lee said. “She’s an amazing player, and she’s really good.”
Lee understands how heavy of an underdog she is to Blumenherst, but despite her place in the national spotlight, Lee views the experience as something that will help her grow as a player.
“I really want to enjoy it and learn from her because she’s a veteran,” said Lee.
A first-round loss at the U.S Girls’ Junior and a hectic week at Canon Cup have taken their toll on Lee. She has worn an ACE bandage periodically to temper a nagging knee injury.
Being so close to the title has thoughts of winning dancing in Lee’s head, but she can’t lie about her feelings.
“I’m really tired, and I want to go home.
• • •
Ray McCarthy is a Golfweek assistant editor. To reach him email email@example.com.
Results from the quarterfinals at the U.S. Women’s Amateur,played Aug. 7 at the par-72, 6,484 Eugene (Ore.) Country Club:
Azahara Munoz vs. Belen Mozo
Amanda Blumenherst vs. Erynne Lee
Azahara Munoz def. Stephanie Na 7 and 6 Belen Mozo def. Whitney Neuhauser 6 and 5 Amanda Blumenherst def. Carlota Ciganda 4 and 3 Erynne Lee def. Chelsea Stelzmiller 4 and 3
Stephanie Na def. Kristina Wong 1 up Azahara Munoz def. Tracy Nichols 1 up Whitney Neuhauser def. Stephanie Kono 1 up Belen Mozo def. Stephanie Sherlock 6 and 5 Amanda Blumenherst def. Ellen Mueller 7 and 6 Carlota Ciganda def. Jennifer Hirano 2 and 1 Erynne Lee def. Kira Meixner 19 holes Chelsea Stelzmiller def. Megan McChrystal 2 and 1
Stephanie Na def. Sydney Burlison 2 and 1 Kristina Wong def. Lauren Doughtie 20 holes Azahara Munoz def. Ha-Na Jang 2 and 1 Tracy Nichols def. Breanne Loucks 2 up Whitney Neuhauser def. Lucy Nunn 5 and 4 Stephanie Kono def. Jane Chin 4 and 3 Stephanie Sherlock def. Sydnee Michaels 1 up Belen Mozo def. Lindy Duncan 3 and 2 Amanda Blumenherst def. Nikki Koller 4 and 3 Ellen Mueller def. Selanee Henderson 3 and 1 Carlota Ciganda def. Jennifer Johnson 1 up Jennifer Hirano def. Pearl Jin 2 and 1 Kira Meixner def. Stefanie Kenoyer 3 and 2 Erynne Lee def. Cindy LaCrosse 1 up Chelsea Stelzmiller def. Alison Walshe 19 holes Megan McChrystal def. Julia Potter 3 and 2
Stephanie Na def. Kelley Louth 3 and 1 Sydney Burlison def. Erica Moston 2 and 1 Lauren Doughtie def. Mina Harigae 1 up Kristina Wong def. Tiffany Lua 5 and 4 Azahara Munoz def. Alison Lee 2 and 1 Ha-Na Jang def. Shannon Fish 2 and 1 Tracy Nichols def. Sara-Maude Juneau 2 up Breanne Loucks def. Michelle Shin 2 and 1 Whitney Neuhauser def. Kristen Park 3 and 2 Lucy Nunn def. Lisa McCloskey 1 up Jane Chin def. Tiffany Joh 1 up Stephanie Kono def. Julie Yang 3 and 2 Stephanie Sherlock def. Tara Goedeken 19 holes Sydnee Michaels def. Christine Song 20 holes Lindy Duncan def. Sara Hurwitch 3 and 2 Belen Mozo def. Ayaka Kaneko 19 holes Amanda Blumenherst def. Lizette Salas 2 and 1 Nikki Koller def. Natalie Sheary 5 and 4 Selanee Henderson def. Jennifer Song 2 and 1 Ellen Mueller def. Allie White 3 and 2 Carlota Ciganda def. Caroline Kim 6 and 4 Jennifer Johnson def. J. Gulyanamitta 2 and 1 Pearl Jin def. Victoria Tanco 6 and 4 Jennifer Hirano def. Alexis Thompson 1 up Kira Meixner def. Jennie Lee 3 and 2 Stefanie Kenoyer def. Ryann O'Toole 4 and 3 Erynne Lee def. Paola Moreno 1 up Cindy LaCrosse def. Pennapa Pulsawath 9 and 7 Alison Walshe def. Jaclyn Sweeney 2 and 1 Chelsea Stelzmiller def. Alice Kim 20 holes Julia Potter def. Dottie Ardina 3 and 2 Megan McChrystal def. Sydney Crane 2 and 1