Albrecht tops Woods for Harder Hall title

Ashleigh Albrecht during stroke play of the 2010 U.S. Women's Amateur.

SEBRING, Fla. – Cheyenne Woods isn’t sure if her uncle has heard of the Harder Hall Invitational, but she might consult him about her runner-up finish there.

“I might have to text him and get some tips on how to close out a tournament,” said Woods, a Wake Forest junior and niece of Tiger, after she lost to Ashleigh Albrecht by one stroke Jan. 8.

Albrecht, a sophomore at Kentucky and relative unknown, birdied Nos. 17 and 18 at Harder Hall Country Club to clip Woods. Buoyed by a record 9-under 63 in the first round, Albrecht shot even par on a picture-perfect day in Sebring to close with a 10-under 278 total.

“This is my first win since high school,” said Albrecht, No. 328 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

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Cheyenne Woods during the third round of the Harder Hall Invitational.

Defending champion Kyle Roig had a chance to repeat until her putter went ice cold. Roig missed a 2-foot par putt on the 16th hole to drop out of a share of the lead with Woods. She looked primed to regain ground after Woods hit her second shot into the water on the par-5 17th and Roig was pin-high in two.

Woods, however, knocked her sand wedge to 15 feet and saved par and Roig three-putted for bogey, missing a 1-foot putt.

“I pretty much gave it away on the last three holes,” Roig said.

Albrecht pounced at the right time, getting up-and-down for birdie on the 17th and splitting the fairway up the last. She and Woods were squared heading into the 18th. Woods took a drop from the cart path onto pine needles and dirt. Her foot slipped on the downswing, and she had 25 feet left for birdie.

Meanwhile, Albrecht hit a wedge from 136 yards to 5 feet. After Woods missed, Albrecht stroked in her birdie putt, then went straight to her father, Jon, a California lawyer who nervously puffed on a cigar all day.

“It was difficult to watch,” said Jon, choking back tears.

Jon Albrecht signed up his daughter for monthly lessons after they moved to Bear Creek Golf Club, hoping she’d have a decent handle on a game she could play for life. Ashleigh humored him, but took tae kwon do (black belt) and volleyball more seriously. As a freshman in high school, Albrecht realized she probably wasn’t tall enough to make it in volleyball and, at her father’s urging, played competitive golf for the first time. Albrecht never played the AJGA, but she did win a playoff to qualify for the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open.

“I just had fun this week, and it showed,” said Albrecht, who last week at the Dixie Amateur merely hoped she’d break 80, the rust was so thick.

Plenty of Sebring fans showed up to catch a glimpse of players whom they’ll see on TV in the coming years. The Harder Hall is a throwback tournament, held on a public course with no ropes. Fans and players alike zip around in carts. Roving scoreboards are dry erase for a quick fix. There’s nothing pretentious about this event, now run by amateur legend Carol Semple Thompson, who won the senior title.

Twice during the back nine, an elderly man walked up to Woods with his flip phone and asked her to pose. She obliged, smiling as the man fumbled through taking the picture. Woods couldn’t have handled the inconvenience with more class.

“I’m not a professional, so who am I to shoo them away?” said Woods, who bears a strong resemblance to Tiger when she smiles. “Everyone has been so nice out here. I wanted to give them whatever they wanted.”

Of all the players in the final pairing, the one mostly likely to become an LPGA member first is Victoria Tanco, who struggled mightily with a 79. Tanco, a two-time AJGA Player of the Year, plans to petition the LPGA to attend Q-School as a 17-year-old later this year, just like Jessica Korda did in 2010.

Tanco snapped her iron in half when she wrapped it around a skinny pine tree on the 13th. Despite the valiant approach, she bogeyed the hole. Her round in a nutshell.

Tanco and Albrecht will make their debuts in the South Atlantic Amateur next week in Ormond Beach. Roig, 17, needs to speak with her teachers first.

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