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Ernst (66) takes 3-shot individual lead at NCAAs

BRYAN, Texas – The biggest reason LSU still is in the national championship wasn’t even a factor when the Tigers made the trip to Traditions Club in the fall for the NCAA Preview. On the shoulders of freshman Austin Ernst and her 6-under 66, LSU shot 8-over 296 on Thursday. At 12 over for the tournament, LSU trails leader UCLA by four shots.

LSU nearly won the Preview back in September, finishing one shot behind Alabama. The Crimson Tide are all but out of this horse race after going 15 over in Round 2. Top-ranked USC also is on the bottom half of the leaderboard, at 28 over for the tournament.


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As the favorites huddled in silence off the ninth and 18th greens, LSU players circled for a quick pep talk and scattered with smiles on their faces. As the afternoon waves filed off the course at dusk, defending champion Purdue also had managed to salvage its round in the wind, shooting 295 to move into second place with a 587 total. Host Texas A&M remains in the mix and is fourth at 13 over.

“We fought hard and you’ve got to say we’re in good position,” said Purdue coach Devon Brouse. “But let’s be honest, someone is going to take control of this tournament tomorrow.”

The secret to success Thursday was battling a strong wind. LSU head coach Karen Bahnsen said that wasn’t a factor in the fall at the Preview.

“It did play tough today. It was windy yesterday when we played; it was windy today still,” Bahnsen said. “You’ve got some great USGA pins, which is great, but that’s what you expect at a championship.”

The LSU train nearly was derailed halfway through the round when the big numbers began to pop up on Tiger scorecards. LSU had to count five scores of double bogey or higher.

“That’s not like them,” Bahnsen said. “We were playing really good at the beginning. We try to eliminate mental mistakes, and had a couple.”

Bahnsen said she’s seen good rounds coming for Ernst, whose 66 put her one shot short of the course record at Traditions and left Ernst with the lead in the individual race at 6 under. Teammate Megan McChrystal holds a share of that record from the Preview. After winning the Central District Invitational in February, Ernst rolled through the SEC Championship and NCAA Central Regional with top-10 finishes. She replaced Mary Michael Maggio in the lineup for the national championship.

“I’ve finally gotten some putts to fall, and then I got three putts to fall early, and once I get a couple putts to fall, I get a lot of confidence in it,” Ernst said in her husky South Carolina accent. Her round included seven birdies and just one bogey.

As the Tigers prepare to lose McChrystal, a senior who spent the majority of the year firmly atop the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, Ernst could be a rising star for LSU. The freshman walks the course with a $5 pair of plastic shades atop her head, complete with neon green earpieces. She rarely shades her eyes with them – and takes a good deal of grief for them – but they’ve become a trademark for Ernst.

“I’ve been rocking these all year,” she explains. “I wore them in the first tournament of the spring and ended up winning. I like them. I mean, they’re different; nobody else wears them.”

To Ernst, what remains of the tournament should be simple, especially with the favorites dropping.

“Just going into the last two days, feel pretty good about it,” Ernst said. “Everybody is playing pretty well on the team right now. It’s just a matter of us clicking the last two days.”

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