OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Jennifer Song’s father called from Korea and told her to think like a samurai: “Their emotions never change.”
The unwavering mindset allowed the USC freshman to slice through the competition May 21 and vault her Trojan team to top of the leaderboard through three rounds of the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship. The defending champions carry a one-stroke lead over top-ranked Arizona State and are three strokes ahead of cross-town rival UCLA.
It’s the West Coast war nearly everyone predicted. The top three teams in the country have battled back and forth all season, and the numbers don’t look good for USC.
The Trojans have struggled with depth this season. ASU has a 6-1-1 record against USC and have bested them by 66 strokes overall this season. UCLA is 6-2 against the Trojans, with a 48-stroke lead.
ASU and UCLA, however, are deadlocked at 3-3, with a 3-stroke advantage going to the Sun Devils. The difference is so small it’s almost not worth mentioning.
“We know the teams that we’re playing with,” Gaston said. “I think we’re going to have to play really great golf tomorrow to hold onto it. We can’t protect this (lead).”
Song insists she’s not thinking ahead to winning either the team or individual race, but her teammate, Lizette Salas, admits they are sick of second. USC has a whopping six silver-medal showings this year, but all those heartaches will be erased by one round if the Trojans can hang on.
UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth seemed dumbfounded by her team’s poor play. One day after Maria Jose Uribe made practically every putt she looked at, nothing would fall in a 5-over 77. Senior Tiffany Joh double-bogeyed the 18th hole to shoot 76 while Sydnee Michaels (79) and freshman Glory Yang (77) struggled from start to finish. Freshman Stephanie Kono led the team with 74.
“I saw some things I haven‘t seen in a long time,” Forsyth said. “Nerves, you want to throw it all in there. It just wasn’t a good day.”
Meanwhile, Melissa Luellen’s ASU team finally played up to their ranking, posting the day’s lowest round of 3-over 291. ASU and USC were the only two schools to break 300 on another picture-perfect day.
Sophomore transfer Jaclyn Sweeney kicked things into gear with a 69 while senior Azahara Munoz posted 72. ASU boasts a 69-8-1 record against the entire NCAA field and dominated both the Pac-10 Championship and NCAA West Regional. Should the Sun Devils make it a post-season sweep Friday, it would mark the school’s seventh NCAA title and the first since 1998.
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North Carolina is in position to post a feel-good finish. Sally Austin is trying to keep the emotions at bay until the last putt drops. Tomorrow is her final round as UNC head coach.
“I’m trying not to even think about it,” said Austin, though it was difficult to do Wednesday at a clam bake, where coaches honored her tenure as a Tar Heel with kind words.
Austin said UNC hasn’t beaten both Duke and Wake Forest at an NCAA Championship since 1993 when she was an assistant coach.
“I’d like for us to have the low round tomorrow and see what happens.”
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Amanda Blumenherst walked off the last green with a stern look on her face. She had just four-putted for double bogey to stand six shots off the lead.
Blumenherst doesn’t expect to be in the running for Player of the Year honors, and she has accepted that. But rest assured, she has another piece of hardware in mind.
“When (Player of the Year) is announced, I won’t be disappointed because I’m not expecting it by any means,” said Blumenherst, who has won the award the last three years. “To win nationals would take the place of it because it’s something I haven’t done.”
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Dawn Shockley’s scorecard is, well, kind of shocking. Her roller-coaster round included two double-bogeys, five bogeys and four birdies for a 5-over 77. Nothing worked well for the Pioneers, who didn’t have one player break 75.
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Two players competing at Caves Valley as individuals are in contention with one round to go. Playing in the same group, UC Davis’ Alice Kim and UCF’s Stephanie Connelly are within striking distance of Southern Cal’s Jennifer Song, who is at even-par 216.
Kim posted the better round of the two with a 2-under 70 to sit alone in fourth place at 3-over 219. Connelly, who leads the championship in par-4 scoring, carded a 3-over 75 and is tied for fifth at 5-over 221.
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Short shots: Scoring in the third round was similar to the opening round. The average score today was 77.76 just a little better than the first round when it was 77.92 … In championship golf, par is typically a great score and Arizona State’s Jennifer Osborn leads the field with 41 pars after 54 holes … Virginia senior Lene Krog leads the field in birdies with 13 … Only two teams cracked the 300 mark in Round 3 – Arizona State (293) and USC (295).