After one day at the Pac-12 Championship, the conference tilt is forming just as one might expect: a battle between Nos. 1 and 2.
USC opened up strongest on Monday, as the team fired a 10-under 278 at Ruby Hill Golf Club in Pleasanton, Calif., to grab an early four-shot lead. The No. 2 Trojans boasted all five of its starters being under par for the day and set a single-round school record for lowest score in relation to par at the conference championship. (USC’s 278 tied the Pac-12 Championship record set by Troy in 2009 for lowest single-round total.)
That’s a good start, but with 36 holes to go and four shots able to disappear quickly in college golf, the Trojans can’t rest on their laurels – especially considering their competition right behind. Top-ranked UCLA occupies second-place, thanks to an opening 6-under total that puts the group three ahead of third place. The Bruins had the full group at par or better for the day, with three posting rounds of 70.
Even with 36 holes to go, it’s tempting to tout this a two-team race. Cross-town rivals. No. 1 vs. No. 2. It all comes down to them. The firepower is there on each side to make this a two-team runaway. The Trojans have three former All-Americans (Gabriella Then, Karen Chung and Kyung Kim) on their side. Then posted 70 on Friday for a tie for fifth, while Chung and Kim each sitting T-16 after 71s. But the newbies may be even more impressive. Tiffany Chan, a junior college transfer who sits as Golfweek‘s No. 37 in her first season at USC, opened in 67 to sit solo second, while Robynn Ree, Golfweek’s No. 5 and possibly the country’s best freshman, posted up at 70 on the day.
For UCLA’s side, that All-American and youth combo also stands. Bronte Law, Golfweek‘s No. 1 and the lead candidate to win the ANNIKA Award Presented by 3M, posted one of the group’s three 70s, with the other two emerging from star freshmen Lilia Vu (No. 14) and Bethany Wu (No. 33). Louise Ridderstrom (No. 40) and Hadas Libman rounded out the Bruins with matching 72s and T-22 places.
But it’s not inevitable this will be USC-UCLA in the end. Arizona State, which sits third at 3 under, ranks 10th in the country. And the team has finished runner up in three of its last four events this spring. No wins in that stretch, but it means this group likes to contend. On Day One, Monica Vaughn, Golfweek‘s No. 7, led the way with a 69 (fourth), with Linnea Strom (T-16, 1 under) and Roberta Liti (T-22, even par) also posting scores at par or better.
The three teams tied for fourth – Arizona, Oregon and Colorado – all boast top 25 rankings, and the No. 11 Wildcats, the defending champions, have the individual leader. Haley Moore earned that honor with a flawless 6-under 66 on the day (for a one-shot lead). Cathleen Santoso (T-5, 2 under) paces the No. 21 Duck’s efforts, while No. 19 Esther Lee and Alexis Keating (both T-5) are carrying the No. 24 Buffaloes.
No. 6 Stanford, the defending national champion, posted at 1 under for a tie for seventh through 18 holes. The Cardinal actually placed seventh last year at this tournament before going on their NCAA title run.
No. 13 Washington (1 over), Oregon State (4 over) and No. 15 California (7 over) are the only squads among the 11-team field to post over-par rounds Friday.