Arizona Grabs First-Round Lead at NCAA Women's Golf Championships

May 21, 2002

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    AUBURN, Wash. - The Arizona women's golf team jumped out to a nine-stroke lead after the first round of the 2002 NCAA Championships at the par-72 Washington National Golf Club in Auburn. The Wildcats were the only school in the 24-team field to shoot under par, carding a 3-under 285.

    Duke and defending national champion Georgia are tied for second at 6-over 294. Only four strokes separate the next 14 teams in the field.

    Duke sophomore Virada Nirapathpongporn leads the individual leaderboard after shooting a bogey-free, 4-under 68. She holds a one-stroke lead on Georgia junior Summer Sirmons, who equaled her career-best round with a three-under 69. Seven players are tied for third at two under par.

    Tied with Sirmons through 14 holes, Nirapathpongporn fired her approach shot to the 15th hole's island green to eight feet, and rolled in the birdie putt to give the Blue Devils an NCAA leader for the second-consecutive season. Duke's Candy Hannemann won last year's NCAA title but struggled Tuesday, carding a three-over 75.

    'I've never felt better,' said Nirapathpongporn, who earned top-eight finishes in each of six tournaments this season. 'I had a pretty consistent round. I was anxious coming in, but last night and this morning I felt calm. This is the first day, and a lot can happen. I just want to go out tomorrow and play my best. It's a long weekend.'

    Nirapathpongorn is closely pursued by a pair of Georgia golfers, Sirmons and Angela Jerman, who fired scores of 69 and 70, respectively, to place the Lady Bulldogs in a tie for second with Nirapathpongporn's Blue Devils.

    Every team is chasing the sixth-ranked Arizona Wildcats, however, who built their commanding nine-stroke lead on the strength of under-par performances by junior Laura Myerscough, freshman Mar Garcia and 2001 NCAA runner-up Lorena Ochoa. Winner of an NCAA-record seven-consecutive tournaments in 2002, Ochoa put herself in contention with a one-under 71, which included a birdie on the ninth hole, her last of the day. Arizona scored just one round over par, a one-over 73 by senior Cristina Baena which equaled the 19th-best performance of the day.

    'It's extremely important for us to get off to a good start,' said Arizona head coach Greg Allen, who took over the Wildcats' program following the team's NCAA Championship in 2000. ' It was a total team effort today with what Mar did, the play from Laura and the way Lorena hung in there with a roller-coaster type round.'

    Host Washington struggled to 10-over on the first eight holes, but settled down to finish in a tie for 16th at 14-over par 302. The Huskies were led junior Michelle Grafos, whose two-over 74 was more than five strokes better than her career average.

    'We got off to a really tough start; it's not what we were hoping for,' said Husky head coach Mary Lou Mulflur. 'I think part of that's nerves - the pressure of hosting and getting those first-day jitters out of our system. The team battled hard, and if we take away the good from today, we'll be in good shape.'

    Competition continues Wednesday, with the second round beginning at 8:00 a.m. Pacific.

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