SORRENTO, Fla. – It’s good practice not to believe anything you hear until it’s Sharpied on a scoreboard. Such was the case Tuesday at the UCF Challenge, where a handful of teams spent the better part of an hour milling around the 18th green, waiting to see how final-round scores would shake out. After an early error in live scoring, no one could be sure who exactly was leading the event as four teams (Coastal Carolina, Tulane, Minnesota and South Carolina) crowded the top of the leaderboard. With that, here are five things to take away an exciting start to the spring season:
1.) Big win for Coastal Carolina
The Chanticleers had the lead when play ended late on a sunny Monday afternoon, but they didn’t keep it for long Tuesday. The young Coastal team saw its scores climb as high as 8 over before knocking off some strokes coming into the clubhouse. The Chanticleers turned in a clutch performance as three players combined to go 5 under in the last three holes. Freshman Courtney Boe led the charge, birdieing her final three holes. It didn’t come a moment too soon, either, as Coastal bumped Tulane at the last minute to finish first by a stroke. Aside from a Big South Conference title in 2009, Katie Quinney calls it the team’s biggest win in her three years as head coach.
“They’re capable of hitting into the centers of greens and playing golf the way they know how to play,” Quinney said. “They made a lot of pars and some good birdies coming down the stretch.”
2.) Who wants it?
A solo victory would have had equally significant meaning for both Minnesota senior Teresa Puga and Kentucky sophomore Ashleigh Albrecht. If not for a tight flight schedule, the two may very well have spent a good part of the afternoon vying for that title.
When regulation ended, the two players were locked at 8-under 208. On the first extra trip down No. 18, Albrecht made par while Puga dumped a pitch shot in the fringe then holed it to force another trip back to the tee. This time, Puga got up-and-down from a bunker as Albrecht missed a 15-footer for par. With flights looming, the two shook hands and called it a tie.
Albrecht already has won once in 2011 at the Harder Hall and gained a noticeable amount of confidence from it. Tough to say what medalist honors in Sorrento might done for an already rock-solid mental game.
As for Puga, the win would have been the first – and long overdue – victory of an accomplished career. Trophy in hand, Puga was still happy to share the title, especially with the knowledge that it wasn’t easily earned.
“I’ve been around a few times,” she said with a wide grin. “I never thought it was going to come.”
3.) It all came down to 18
As the highest-ranked team in the field (No. 15), Tulane was a fixture near the top of the leaderboard all three rounds. The Green Wave claimed the first-round lead, dropped to third in Round 2, but quickly regained the top spot after Tuesday’s shotgun start. Where did that margin likely come from? No. 18.
Tulane saw its share of carnage there in Round 2. The team was 1 under entering the hole, but went 11 over there as a team (eight of those counted toward the team score). Tulane rebounded Tuesday to play the hole in 2 under, thanks in part to birdies from Ashley McKenney and Janine Fellows.
“We played great this week, we played the way we wanted to,” said head coach J.T. Horton. “We didn’t come out on top but we did a lot of good things. The real reason we didn’t win this event was for one hole on one day where we played 13 over. Other than that we had a very good week.”
4.) Early run up the leaderboard
With so many teams bunched at the top of the leaderboard, few eyes ventured past the top 5 – the teams that had spent the past two days in contention. Early Tuesday morning, Augusta State looked to put itself in the mix as sophomore Natalie Wille led the Jaguar charge as she birdied three of her opening five holes, beginning at No. 11, to single-handedly get Augusta State to 3 under for the final round. The team shot up the leaderboard as the rest of the field struggled, but fell back down with a final score of 16-over 304. The Jaguars finished ninth at 35-over 899, up only one spot from where they started the day. Wille finished with a 2-over 74 and was tied for 25th.
5.) Fast start for the home team
Looking for a team to keep on the radar as the spring season progresses? Look no further than UCF. The Knights may not have achieved the ending they had hoped for, but they proved they have the ability to go low after shooting a school-record, 2-under 286 in Round 1. UCF finished solo seventh at Red Tail with a 54-score of 27-over 891.
After ridding themselves of an eight-year winless streak last spring, look for the No. 91-ranked Knights to put together more low rounds to end the year.