Trojan Sweep: USC Wins Team, Individual Titles At Pac-10 Championships
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Despite losing one of its top players to injury before the start of the final round, the USC women's golf team played with four players and rallied through some tough stretches to win the 2011 Pac-10 Golf Championship at Karsten Golf Course.
Led by freshman Sophia Popov, who claimed the individual Pac-10 title in sudden death with a 6-under 210, USC was able to overcome the loss of Lisa McCloskey, the third ranked player in the country, to finish even-par for the tournament and five shots in front of the Arizona Wildcats.
"We knew as we were getting closer to the start that Lisa wasn't going to be able to go," USC head coach Andrea Gaston said. "We had to prepare the team to play with just four players and to play for Lisa and the team. I knew this was a strong team and I knew we could pull it through."
The Trojans' path to the title hit a bump on the sixth when they suffered two bogies, a double bogie and one par, but back-to-back birdies by Popov on seven and eight and another from Lizette Salas on seven helped settle them back down. Salas backed it up with an eagle on the 10th.
"We had trouble on six, but Sophia came back with those birdies and when I heard about Lizette's eagle on 10, I thought, ok, we've got the flow going again," Gaston said.
Popov opened the round atop the leaderboard with Lua, but started slowly with a bogie on one. After the double bogie on six, she was recharged with the back-to-back birdies and a thought of her fallen teammate.
"I had a horrible start, I was really nervous, but then I started thinking about Lisa," Popov said. "I just said to myself, you can't be doing this. She has a really bad back and can't play. We have to give her that win so I started playing more aggressively and started making some putts. That's how it turned."
The USC freshman wasn't the only one building momentum and the leaderboard started to get crowded.
The first charge came from two-time defending champion Carlota Ciganda, who was attempting to become the first-ever three-time champion of the event. The ASU junior opened the round on the back nine and delivered two birdies and seven pars before shifting to the front nine, where she posted three consecutive birdies on three, four and five to grab a share of the lead at 5-under. A mishit into the water on nine kept her from getting closer. She finished third with a 3-under 213.
"I knew if I played well I could be there with the leaders," Ciganda said. "I was 5-under after 14. I gave myself a chance and I'm happy about that. Unfortunately I made a mistake on the final hole, but I played well and finished third."
Lua, who shared the lead at -4 entering the final round, posted birdies on nine, 13, 14 and 15 to move back into a tie with Popov at -7. A bogey on 17 and par on 18, put her in the clubhouse at -6, where she had to wait.
"I started a little slow. I was able to create some opportunities but wasn't able to convert on them early on," Lua said. "The birdie putt on nine was huge for me. It was my first birdie of the day and really got me started."
A late bogey on 17 and par on 18 sent Popov into a sudden death playoff with Lua at -6. They would play the par-4 18th until a winner was crowned.
"I was super nervous, but I made a really good drive and thought let's just make par and see what she does," Popov said.
Both players hit clean drives into the middle of the fairway and hit the green with their second shots, setting up long birdie opportunities for both. Lua's 25-foot attempt slid past the hole by a foot, while Popov's 15-footer stopped six inches short. She tapped in for par. Lua's comeback par putt missed left and Popov was the new champion.
"I'm disappointed, I would have liked to have won, but overall I played really well," Lua said. "Now we'll start getting ready for regionals."
The 6-under 210 shot by both Popov and Lua ties for the third lowest score in Pac-10 tournament history. Mhari McKay (1997) from Stanford and ASU's Louise Stahl (2005) hold the record with a 3-day total of 207. Ciganda shot 210 to claim the title in 2009.
Popov joins Jennifer Biehn (1994), Candie Kung (2000) and Paola Moreno (2008) as Trojans who have won Pac-10 individual titles. The team win is the third all-time for USC and first since 2008.
"My main goal was winning the team championship and I was so happy when we won," Popov said. "That's basically what I played for today. The team title was the goal and when I won both I was really happy."
"It was definitely an emotional day knowing we wouldn't be playing with Lisa," Gaston said. "But, I'm very excited and proud that we were all able to pull together."
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