Favorites fare well but trail in Tulsa
TULSA, Okla. – There’s always uncertainty when entering a major championship. The NCAA Division I Women’s Championship at Tulsa Country Club this week is no different.
Let’s start with the competition. It’s well documented that familiar names dominate the top of the scoreboard in this championship. We waited to see whether that might be any different this year or if those names – the favorites – would emerge after the first lap.
In terms of competition, last year was as anticlimactic as it gets. USC beat Duke by 21 shots, and Duke was 19 shots better than third-place Purdue.
Please, not again. So, the uncertainty is more like hope – hope for a race on the back nine of the final round, with multiple schools in the hunt. That was the story two years ago when Alabama was able to finish on top of a tightly packed leaderboard on which eight teams finished within 10 shots of the Crimson Tide.
With Round 1 in the books at Tulsa Country Club, what have we learned?
PHOTOS: Women's NCAA Championships (Round 1)
View images from a very windy start to the women's NCAA Championships at Tulsa Country Club.
We learned that the favorites are in position. No. 2 UCLA is second at 11-over 291, top-ranked USC and No. 3 Duke are tied for third at 293 with Arizona State. Those four programs have won 18 of the past 24 championships.
However, we also learned that there could be a party crasher. Oklahoma finished three shots clear of UCLA.
We know Oklahoma is a good team. In the past two years, the Sooners have finished first or second in more than half of their starts. What we learned today is that Oklahoma might be that good this week.
If you are surprised by that, then that’s surprising.
The Sooners are the closest thing to a home team in the 24-team field. The grass, wind and overall conditions shouldn’t require much adjustment for a group that includes four seniors, led by Chirapat Jao-Javanil, the 2012 NCAA individual champion.
The wind played a significant role Monday – and if Mother Nature keeps the fan turned on, it could be a key factor the rest of the week. Washington coach Mary Lou Mulflur insisted that the way teams deal with that could be vital this week.
“I think it’s about maintaining your confidence,” she said. “You got beat up out there. Vanderbilt is one of the hottest teams in the country, and look what happened. It was tough, real tough.”
PHOTOS: Women's NCAA Golf Championships (preview)
View images of some of the teams at Tulsa Country Club during Monday's practice round of the Women's NCAA Championships.
Vanderbilt, which won the SEC Championship and NCAA East Regional by double-digit margins, opened with a 23-over 303 for a tie for 13th place.
UCLA head coach Carrie Forsyth agreed, but added: “If you get a little bit behind, you get that feeling that you don’t know when you are going to be able to make up for it. You wonder when you are going to have a chance to get a birdie.”
If there was one positive with the wind, it did keep the high-80s temperature from feeling so hot.
With 54 holes to go, some unanswered questions remain. For now, it looks as if this tournament won’t be another yawner. Multiple teams could be involved in the finish, including one we may not be accustomed to seeing this time of the year.
Who needs match play?