Pepperdine, UC Davis break away at Red Sky

Grace Na (file photo)

Grace Na (file photo)

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1Southern California 70.56  10 
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3Duke 70.79 
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5Arkansas 71.66 

WOLCOTT, Colo. – By the end of a chilly Tuesday at Red Sky Golf Club, all eyes were turned eastward as a storm cell circled in over the mountains. Only the final groups remained on the golf course as a long rumble of thunder prompted a 20-minute weather delay. By the time players returned to the course, a light rain was coming in sideways.

It could have been a game changer for Round 2 of the Golfweek Conference Challenge, a round you might refer to as moving day. But the bigger game changer came in the form of tricky hole locations on Red Sky’s slick greens. The field fared well. There were five eagles on Tuesday and nine rounds under par.

By the end of the day, the leaderboard had separated. Pepperdine, at 1-under 575, holds a two-shot lead on UC Davis, at 1-over 577. From there, Oklahoma trails by nine. Ole Miss is another 10 shots behind them.

“I told the team, we’re out with the leaders and we’re all playing the same conditions, but you’ve got to go out there and really grind,” Pepperdine head coach Laurie Gibbs said.

Gibbs’ team was one of six schools that were part of a nail-biting finish at last year’s event, but Wednesday’s final round isn’t likely to be that way. Gibbs, who has had a team in this field each of the past four years, says the final round will be about just finishing. Predicting a winning score is hard at this mountain venue, where placement is everything when it comes to hitting shots into undulating greens.

Pepperdine won this event in 2009 when it was played at Primm Valley Golf Club in Primm, Nev. With much of the same roster as last year aside from freshman Marissa Chow, Pepperdine is learning each week. Gibbs is looking to build on a season-opening ninth-place finish at the Branch Law Firm/Dick McGuire Invitational.

“We didn’t really have a lot of time to dwell. We just had to keep going, and that’s what we did,” Gibbs said. “I’m really proud of them.”

As for UC Davis, head coach Anna Temple can name how each player on her squad contributed in Round 2. The effort was led by senior Demi Runas, who had a tournament-record 5-under 67. She missed a 5-footer for birdie at No. 18 as a cold wind swirled. It was only the second bogey-free round of her career.

“My short game was working well, so everything kind of came together,” she said.

Runas is a player who can rely on consistency from tee to green, and she says that strength allows her to avoid the big numbers. She also has seen the course each of the past two years. Far from getting in her head, the eleventh-hour weather delay gave Runas an opportunity to calm down and finish strong. At 6-under 138, Runas leads Pepperdine’s Grace Na by one shot. Six of the top players on the individual leaderboard are from Pepperdine or UC Davis.

For UC Davis, the final round will be about sticking to the plan that the Aggies have been playing with all week. Not even a sudden storm could faze this team.

“They just went out and did their own thing,” head coach Anna Temple said of the short weather break.

A final-round duel between UC Davis and Pepperdine awaits.

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