USC Takes NCAA Championship Lead With 18 Holes Left

May 21, 2009

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Freshman Jennifer Song carded a 1-under 71 to lead another strong round for the No. 3 USC women's golf team, whose steady play vaulted it from a seven-stroke deficit to a one-shot lead after the third round of the 2009 NCAA Championships on Thursday (May 21) at the Caves Valley G.C. in Owings Mills, Md.

The defending national champion Trojans, seeking their third team title, combined for a 6-over 294, tied for third lowest of the event, to surpass second-round leader UCLA and stay just ahead of top-ranked Arizona State. USC will begin the final round at 26-over 890 (301-295-294), one stroke ahead of the Sun Devils at 27-over 891 (302-298-291). No. 2 UCLA fell back to third at 29-over 893 (296-293-304). The next closest team is No. 12 North Carolina, in fourth at 42-over 906.

USC 13th-year head coach Andre Gaston, directing the Trojans into their 12th straight NCAA final, liked the continued steady play by her squad as the tension of the tournament has increased. And she knows it will heat up more tomorrow.

'We have to come out firing our guns tomorrow, playing against UCLA and ASU,' said Gaston. 'All of the teams want it and all will really be going for it tomorrow. We still have to go out and play patiently. That's our theme this week. This course requires you to be patient. If we lose our patience, that's where we lose our game.

'Our veterans need to instill into our younger players that mindset. They know what it takes, how to deal with the good holes and the bad holes.'

USC, playing in the NCAA Championships without a senior and with only two of the five golfers that secured the 2008 NCAA crown (Belen Mozo and Lizette Salas), began the day playing with UCLA and Denver in the final pairing.

After a collective slow start that saw the Trojans fall 10 strokes behind the Bruins, USC started to shave strokes off its score as it neared the turn. Simultaneously, UCLA was picking up shots and fell behind the Trojans.

USC played from first place for all of the back 9, extending its lead by as many as seven strokes at one point. But a tough final few holes evened out the playing field and bunched together the trio of Pac-10 powers.

Unlike last year, when the Trojans had to fight off rain, wind, hail and lightning en route to the 2008 title, the 2009 NCAAs have been blessed by ideal playing conditions, albeit on an extremely challenging course.

But exactly like last year, the final round's top pairing will again consist of USC, UCLA and ASU. Last year, the Trojans entered the final round ahead of the Bruins by three strokes and 13 better than the Sun Devils. The margins are much tighter in 2009.

'This is awfully close,' Gaston said. 'It is kind of cool. It's anyone of us tomorrow. It's a matter of getting off to a good start and hoping we can carry it through.'

Thursday, Song not only helped give USC the overall lead, but she took over the individual lead as well at an even 216 (72-73-71). She is two strokes ahead of Purdue's Maria Hernandez and UCLA's Maria Jose Uribe.

'I wasn't trying to force myself out there, just play one shot at a time, give it my best and if there is a chance for a birdie I said thank you and if there is a chance for a par I say thank you again,' Song said. 'Definitely this course is one of the toughest I've played in my life. The greens are fast, the pin positions are incredibly hard and we have to play a smart game out there.'

For the third day in a row, she started out with at least three birdies before her first bogey, this time getting them on 4, 10 and 11. She bogeyed 12 and 16 before nailing a tough putt for birdie on the difficult 17th hole. An errant chip on the 18th green forced a tough shot for bogey, which she made to finish the round under par.

Junior Belen Mozo turned in her second consecutive strong round and is now tied for 15th at 7-over 223 (78-72-73). She opened up 2-over after three holes, but got a shot back with a birdie on 7 for a 1-over front 9. Playing aggressively on the back 9, Mozo posted three birdies and bogeys. As did Song, Mozo made a rare birdie on 17 to secure the 1-over round.

Sophomore Lizette Salas is tied with Mozo at 7-over 223 (74-74-75). She had her best front 9 of the tournament, going 1-under with a birdies on 4 and 8 to offset a bogey on 1. Hiccups on 12 and 13 cost her three strokes and a short missed putt on 18 prevented her from her third straight 74. Still, she is in the mix for her ninth top 10 finish this season.

Park turned in her best round of the tournament with a 3-over 75. Park was 4-over after five holes with four bogeys. A birdie on 7 secured her a 3-over front 9. She bogeyed 15 but got the stroke back with a 30-foot birdie on 17. Park also was strong on 18, just missing a birdie to close out the round. She is tied for 64th at 17-over 233 (79-79-75).

'I'm really thrilled about Inah,' Gaston said. 'She got off to such a poor start, but hung in there and played great. She was 4-over early and battled back. I'm really proud of her. Caroline Kim has also shown me something this tournament.'

Kim, a junior, was the non-counter for the first time in the tournament with a 7-over 79. She is now tied for 57th at 16-over 232 (77-76-79). Kim birdied the 1st and 9th holes to help counter four bogeys on the front 9.USC hasn't won a tournament this season, settling for six second-place finishes.

Said Song about the chance to change that in the NCAA Championship: 'Definitely, we are mentally and physically prepared. We've been preparing for this event for one year and all of my teammates are really ready and pumped up. We've been having a lot of second places and I think this is our chance to win.'

USC tees off Friday with UCLA and ASU at 1 p.m. EDT. There will be online webstreaming coverage on holes 16-18 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3-6:30 p.m. (or until the completion of play). Click here for webstreaming coverage Friday. It can also be accessed at