Munoz, Blumenherst in U.S. Am final

• Slideshow: The finals are set
• Complete U.S. Women’s Amateur coverage

By RAY McCARTHY
Assistant Editor

EUGENE, Ore. – Droves of people came to the U.S. Women’s Amateur Saturday to watch two best friends break each other’s hearts and to marvel at a lanky 15-year-old who went punch-for-punch with college golf’s undisputed top player.

That fact, however, may be disputed tomorrow.

Azahara Munoz, the 2008 NCAA individual champion, will face Amanda Blumenherst – a three-time college player of the year and the top-ranked woman in college golf – in the 36-hole final of the Women’s Amateur on Sunday.

Will the match determine who’s the best player in college golf?

“I doubt that,” Blumenherst said. “I’d say it takes more than just one tournament.”

Blumenherst defeated Erynne Lee, a 15-year-old national contender in the making, 3 and 2. Munoz knocked off Belen Mozo, her childhood friend, 4 and 3.

“It was really hard,” Munoz said. “It was really weird, but I guess it is what it is. We couldn’t change who I was playing.”

Munoz won the first two holes, while Mozo, who had cruised through her matches up to this point, struggled throughout the day.

“I knew it was going to be a really hard match cause Azahara is playing awesome,” Mozo said. “She missed on a few holes, and I missed after her, which is really bad.”

Mozo and Munoz, along with Carlota Ciganda, are a trio of friends from Spain and have been dubbed “The Spanish Armada.” For Ciganda, who was knocked off by Blumenherst, 4 and 3, in the quarterfinals, watching her two friends play in the semis was unsettling.

”It’s weird because I love them and want both to win but it’s not possible,” she said. “It won’t change anything. They’re best friends, and they’ll be normal.”

Munoz and Mozo shared a tearful embrace after their match. It was difficult for Munoz to pretend her friend was just another opponent.

“Of course I tried,” she said. “If I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t play.”

It wasn’t quite Amen Corner in April, but Lee and Blumenherst combined for a match that had cheers reverberating throughout the Oregon pines.

“My mom told me the other day, ‘Invite the crowd and the media cause I can’t make them go away,’ ”said Lee. “I was pumped up. With the whole crowd out there, it felt great.”

Lee’s final dance on the national stage came on the par-4 10th.

With the match squared, Blumenherst delivered what looked to be her first lead of the match when she holed a 40-foot putt for birdie across a valley in the middle of the green. However, Lee responded with a 25-foot birdie off her own, stealing Blumenherst’s thunder and earning her respect.

“I could see how it would be a little overwhelming, just playing with someone quite a bit older,” said the Duke senior. “But she held up very well and fought back.”

A balky putter eventually did in Lee. After leaving putts short for the duration of her quarterfinal match, Lee was overaggressive coming down the stretch. Blumenherst closed out the match with a 4-foot birdie putt on the par-5 16th.

“It was a grind. I didn’t hit the ball as well as I have been at the beginning,” Blumenherst said. “I was putting well and... everything came together on the last part of the front nine. It was a good match.”

The 36-hole final is ripe with storylines.

Can Blumenherst, who lost in the Women’s Amateur finals last year to Maria Jose Uribe, win in her last appearance at this event?

“I’ve had such a great amateur career that no matter what happens tomorrow I’m not going to see myself as a failure in amateur golf because of the final round of the U.S. Am,” Blumenherst said.

Can Munoz become the first player to win the NCAA Championship and Women’s Amateur titles in the same year since Vicki Goetze-Ackerman in 1992?

“If Amanda is birdieing every hole, I’m going to have to go for it,” Munoz said. “If she’s playing like me [conservative], I’m going to have to do what I’m doing.”

One thing is certain. A college player will win the U.S. Women’s Amateur for the first time since Virada Nirapathpongporn in 2003.

“Us college girls were due,” Blumenherst said.

• • •

Ray McCarthy is a Golfweek assistant editor. To reach him e-mail [email protected]

Results from the semifinals at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, played Aug. 9 at the par-72, 6,484 Eugene (Ore.) Country Club:

SEMIFINALS
Azahara Munoz def. Belen Mozo 4 and 3 Amanda Blumenherst def. Erynne Lee 3 and 2

QUARTERFINALS
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

THIRD ROUND
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

SECOND ROUND
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

FIRST ROUND
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

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