Despite limiting injury this spring, Stanford's Albane Valenzuela fires Sunday 66 at NCAAs

RANCHO MIRAGE, CA - MARCH 30: Albane Valenzuela of Switzerland makes a tee shot on the eighth hole during round two of the ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club on March 30, 2018 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images) Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Despite limiting injury this spring, Stanford's Albane Valenzuela fires Sunday 66 at NCAAs

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Despite limiting injury this spring, Stanford's Albane Valenzuela fires Sunday 66 at NCAAs

STILLWATER, Okla. – Albane Valenzuela left the year’s first major with more than the confidence that she could play among the best. The Stanford sophomore suffered a wrist injury at the ANA Inspiration from the deep rough. After the Pac-12 Championship, she didn’t hit a ball until NCAA regionals play. After the San Francisco Regional, she put the clubs away for seven days before arriving in Stillwater, Okla., for the NCAA Championship.

Coming into a place like Karsten Creek cold is a tall order, even for an Olympian who set a 36-hole record for amateurs at the ANA last April, shooting 6-under 138.

The Swiss star opened with a 4-over 76 at the NCAA Championship, three-putting four times in her first six holes. It was a nightmare on the greens early for the Cardinal, but head coach Anne Walker loved the way her team dug deep to stay in it. They were 20 over after six holes and remained on that number until the end of Round 1, coming in 16th out of 24 teams.

“I came off the course that day more proud of them than maybe I’ve been all year,” said Walker. “They fought hard.”

Since then it has been an upward climb for Stanford, with Sunday’s ascension due in large part to Valenzuela’s 6-under 66. Valenzuela hit 16 greens and took 28 putts in her third round and sits in a tie for seventh at 1-under 215. Stanford climbed up to seventh in the team standings. The top eight will advance to match play after 72 holes.

No women’s team has fared better in match play since the format changed three years ago. The Cardinal won the championship in 2015, finished runner-up in 2016 and lost in the semifinals last year. USC is the only other school that has advanced to match play three times.

Walker wasn’t worried about Valenzuela at the NCAAs.

“She’s tough as nails,” said Walker. “The situation was going to be either a) it felt better and she’d come play or b) it didn’t feel good at all and she’d still play.”

Valenzuela has done this sort of thing before. She was badly injured in a bike accident last spring and was forced to withdraw the ANA. She came back from that trying incident and played some of her best golf.

The smiling Valenzuela, who was diagnosed with Tenosynovitis, said the key is to remain positive.

“As coach told me before,” she said, “I’ve hit a lot of golf balls in my life.”

The rust seems to be falling off at just the right time.

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