USC One Stroke Short At NCAA Championships

May 21, 2010

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No. 3 USC entered the final round of the 2010 Women's Golf NCAA Championships trailing No. 7 Purdue by seven strokes. By the time the final pairing reached the final green on Friday (May 21) at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C., the deficit was down to two.

A bogey by Purdue's Maude-Aimee LeBlanc opened the door for Jennifer Song and the Trojans, but the USC sophomore's birdie attempt from about 12 feet to force a playoff skirted by the hole. After 72 holes of golf, USC finished in second-place at 2-over 1154 (282-288-295-289), one stroke back of first-time national title winner Purdue at 1-over 1153 (284-294-280-295).

Alabama took third at 5-over 1157 (289-288-294-286) while Arizona State, the 2009 NCAA champion, was fourth at 9-over 1161 (288-293-290-290), Arizona was fifth at 14-over 1166 (296-286-293-291) and UCLA was sixth at 17-over 1169 (288-292-302-287). Oklahoma State's Caroline Hedwall won the individual title at 12-under 276 (70-70-68-68).

USC, the 2003 and 2008 NCAA champion, began the final round in second place with a seven-stroke deficit, a disadvantage that never grew but remained fairly constant through the front 9. But the closer the teams got to 18 (the Trojans and Purdue were joined by Arizona State in the leader group, though the Sun Devils never got closer than third), the closer USC got. The Trojans edged ahead briefly midway through the back nine, but Purdue regained the lead with a handful of holes to play and ultimately held off USC.

Troy played in the final pairing of the NCAA Championships for the third year in a row and for the fifth time since 2003. It finished in the top 4 at the NCAAs for the fifth year in a row and for the sixth time in the past eight years. The second-place finish was the third in program history. USC finished 10 strokes out in 2006 and 11 out in 1994.

Song, finished tied for fifth at 5-under 283 (67-71-72-73) a year after she was second. The sophomore, an All-American as a freshman who is turning pro after this season, registered her sixth top 5 finish of the season. Her final round got under way with an even front 9 that included birdies on 3 and 6 and bogeys on 7 and 9. She moved to 1-under on 14 but bogeyed 15 and 17 to finish 1-over on the final round.

She was the final Trojan on the course with USC trailing by two. Though all five Trojans playing had combined for more than 1100 shots, Troy's fate came down to Song's final hole.

Song played the 18th hole - a short par 5 - aggressively to put herself into position for a makeable eagle attempt (she eagled the hole on Tuesday, though it was playing longer on Friday). After a strong tee shot, she used another big swing to get to within the fringe of the 18th green. Meanwhile, LeBlanc's second shot went into the bunker and ultimately forced her into a long par attempt, which she missed. Song's eagle chip which could have won the event, stopped far shorter than she'd liked. It left the agonizingly tough 12-foot birdie attempt for the tie, a shot that just wouldn't go down.

Senior Belen Mozo and freshman Cyna Rodriguez ended up turning in USC's top two rounds on Friday, a pair of 71s. Mozo tied for 21st at 4-over 292 (73-72-76-71). She was 3-under through six holes thanks to three birdies before her first blemish, a bogey on 9. She stayed at 2-under until bogeys on 15 and 17. But needing a birdie on 18 to keep USC in reach of Purdue, she nailed about a 10-footer to finish the round under par.

Rodriguez opened the tournament on fire before struggling during a rough third round. She bounced back in a big way in her final round to tie for 33rd at 6-over 294 (68-72-83-71). She opened strong with a birdie on 1 and an eagle on 3. A bogey on 4 dropped to her to 2-under, which is where she finished the front 9. She got back to 2-under with a birdie on 10 and went back to 1-under with a bogey on 15. As the pressure mounted in the final few holes, Rodriguez managed three straight solid pars.

Junior Lizette Salas tied for 27th at 5-over 293 (74-73-72-74). She was 1-under through the first 12 holes after birdies on 1 and 2 and a bogey on 7. But back-to-back bogeys on 13 and 14 and a double bogey on 15 dropped her to 3-over before she birdied the 18th hole to finish with a 74.

Sophomore Inah Park turned in her best round since Nov. 4 on the biggest stage of the year. She was 2-over on the front 9 with a bogey on 3, a birdie on 6 and a double bogey on 7. After five straight pars, she dropped to 3-over with a bogey on 14, but she nailed a 20-foot birdie in 18 to get back to 74. She tied for 86th at 16-over 304 (77-78-75-74)

USC's 1154 strokes was the Trojans' lowest ever four-round total at the NCAAs. USC's NCAA title-winning totals were 1197 in 2003 and 1168 in 2008, the latter being the Trojans' previous school record at the NCAA Championships. In fact, only in 2004 would Troy's 1154 not been good enough to win the NCAA crown.

The one-stroke difference between first and second-place was the closest finish at the NCAA Championships since 1996, when Arizona defeated San Jose State in a playoff. The 1991 NCAAs also came down to a playoff, a UCLA win, also over San Jose State. Coincidentally, the Spartans had been the only team to previously win by one stroke, doing it in 1987 and 1989.

Jennifer Song finishes her career as a Trojan as the all-time leader in rounds in the 60s (15). She finished 2010 with a 71.65 stroke average, the second-best ever at USC behind only her freshman average of 71.55. Her career stroke average of 71.60 is also a school record (minimum two years). Senior Belen Mozo's 13 career rounds in the 60s are the second-most in school history behind Song. Junior Lizette Salas has 10 career rounds in the 60s and figures to challenge Song's record next year.

Song's tie for fifth marked the 12th time a Trojan has finished in the top 5 of the NCAA Championships, which includes individual titles in 1998, 2003 and 2006.

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