Rella Leads Big 12 Championships
AUSTIN, Texas -With a career low 2-under 70 in the first round of this year's Big 12 Championship, senior Allison Rella is the first Colorado golfer in league history to tie or lead the championship after the first day of competition as the senior sits atop the 60-player leader board here Friday. As a team, Colorado is in seventh place after a first loop 307, its best ever start to this tournament and best round in a conference outing since carding a 302 in the second round in the 1999 annual as the Buffs are a pair of shots out of third place on the 6,323 yard University of Texas Golf Club configuration.
Rella shares the lead with Big 12 Player of the Year and fourth-ranked nationally Annie Thurman-Young of Oklahoma State. The two are a single stroke ahead of first-team all-Big 12 pick Karin Sjodin (71), who Rella was paired with during this morning's round, and sit three ahead of Texas' Lisa Ferrero, Texas Tech's Kim Kolb, Kansas' Chelsey Pryor and Elli Brown of Nebraska, who all carded a first loop 73.
"I played with Karin in this tournament three years ago when she was a freshman and I was a sophomore. She really outplayed me and I was a little embarrassed, so I was excited to be paired with her again. She's so solid that it made me want to keep up with her. We joked that it was almost like match play out there today," said Rella of her first round pairing and play. "I got into this mode where everything was going in on line and was 10 feet from the pin. It felt like I had no control of my body and everything came together. It was a great feeling."
Looking for their fourth team title in five years, seventh-ranked Oklahoma State shot a first round 295 and sit just two strokes ahead of defending champion Texas (297). Two strokes separate third to seventh place and Baylor (305), Texas Tech (305), Nebraska (305), Missouri (306) and Colorado (307).
"I thought Ally played an excellent round of golf today. She's been hitting her clubs so well lately that I'm not surprised," said assistant coach Brent Franklin who is with the team this weekend while head coach Anne Kelly remains in Boulder with her mother who was hospitalized immediately prior to the team's scheduled departure. "This is a new team with a fresh attitude that Anne and I have been trying to instill all year and they're buying into it. They're all listening and doing what they need to do. I know that while four players are not happy with themselves, they're happy for Ally."
Rella is apparently saving her best conference championship for last. Playing No. 1 for the Buffs this weekend, she had four birdies along with 12 pars. She birdied two of her first four holes, shot par on 14 through 17 and made the turn with a birdie on the 412-yard, par-4 18th hole which Franklin, described as the toughest hole he's ever seen. Only two players birdied that hole today, Rella and teammate Maria Persson-Gulda. Nineteen other players shot par.
"I thought today that hole even played a little easier than it could with a down wind. There's a bunker on the right, with a creek running between it and a two-tiered green. If you get in that bunker, you're going 225 yards uphill. You had to hit a very good second shot and a great tee shot. I would have bet everything I own that we would never have birdied that hole, never mind two," said Franklin.
"It was a really challenging hole, and I just had three great shots in a row, added Rella. "There's a bunker on the right side that you had to carry 210 yards to clear."
She was 4-under through 11 holes, but then suffered two straight bogeys on 12 and 13 when she bounced back with two straight pars and her fifth birdie on 16 for a first round 70.
"I don't feel like I have any pressure on me to maintain the lead. I was pretty comfortable today. I've always known that I could do it. Today was a good day and the highlight of my career. I'll try and forget about it tomorrow and just play golf. I have two rounds left of my career and nothing to lose," Rella added.
Both with a first round 78 and a share of 26th place, second-team all-Big 12 pick Hannah Hoch and junior Maria Persson-Gulda weren't as lucky in their second and third championships, respectively. Hoch went +4 on the front nine after shooting par on 10 and 11, but then doubled 12, recovered with a birdie on 13 before suffering bogeys on 14, 15 and 18. She shaved two strokes off her back nine score shooting par on all but two holes. Persson-Gulda struggled off the first tee, with bogeys on five of her first seven holes. She recovered going into the turn, shooting par on 17 and carding a birdie on that infamous 18th hole to come out +4 on the front nine. Going into her 14th hole she was 6-over, but regrouped for a birdie on 14, and parred three of last four holes.
In their first conference championships, both Jessie Malcolm and Jess Ellis struggled with the field and the long course. With her first round of the postseason matching her final round of the regular season, Malcolm rounded out the Buffs' first round scorecard with an 81. She was even after three holes with a bogey, par and birdie, but then went +4 on the next six holes on her front nine. Two more bogeys ensued before she shot par on 12 through 15. Her momentum didn't last long as she doubled 16, bogeyed 17, but went into the clubhouse after shooting par on 18 and in a five-way share of 47th place.
Ellis opened her first league championship in great shape, even through her first three holes before making the turn +6 with four straight bogeys and a double on her ninth hole. Her four even holes on the back nine couldn't overcome the three bogeys and two doubles in the same span as the sophomore is in 57th place with Oklahoma State's Ali Griffin.
The tournament's second and third rounds will be played Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
"Everyone has already developed a plan for tomorrow. And for everyone, it's different things," closed Franklin. "If Hannah gets going, if Maria plays a little better, if one of the Jess' has a better round, then I think a five or six shot improvement is realistic."
BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIPS
University of Texas Golf Club (Austin, Texas)
1. Oklahoma State........ 295
2. Texas ...................... 297
3. Baylor...................... 305
3. Texas Tech............... 305
3. Nebraska ................ 305
6. Missouri................... 306
7. COLORADO............ 307
8. Texas A&M............... 310
9. Kansas.................... 311
10. Oklahoma............... 314
11. Iowa State.............. 317
12. Kansas State.......... 320
T1. Allison Rella.................. 33-37- 70
T26. Hannah Hoch.............. 40-38- 78
T26. Maria Persson-Gulda... 39-39- 78
T47. Jessie Malcolm........... 40-41- 81
T57. Jess Ellis.................... 42-43- 85