USC's Catherine Park (USC Athletics photo)
The field at the NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championships was trimmed in half on Sunday as teams continue to jockey for position to qualify for the match-play portion of the championship which starts on Tuesday at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The top of the leaderboard wasn't as intriguing or drama-filled as life near the cutline, where several teams were looking to extend their seasons at least one more day.
A day after setting the NCAA Women's Championship single-round scoring record at 15-under par, Stanford turned in a 2-over round of 290 on Sunday, which turned out to be the second-lowest team score of the day. At 13-under 851, the Cardinal will take a seven-stroke lead over Wake Forest into the last 18 holes of qualifying in an attempt to lock down the No. 1 seed for the eight-team match play portion of the event.
Defending NCAA women's individual champion Rose Zhang was the only Stanford player to finish under par on Sunday, as the world's top-ranked female amateur signed for a 1-under 71. Freshman Kelly Xu turned in an even-par 72, Megha Ganne finished at 1-over 73 while junior Sadie Engleman had a birdie-eagle finish for a 74.
"It was incredibly challenging today," said Stanford head coach Anne Walker. "The greens are firmer and faster. We actually got a decent amount of wind this morning, which was surprising. We got it for what I think are the seven hardest holes on the golf course, so that combination made it really tough. We had a tough start on Friday and this team dug their heels in. Making the turn (today) I never saw any quit. We rallied there on 18 and picked up three shots.
"We’ve been in this position before. Yes, we’re 54 holes in, but the tournament really starts over each day. I don’t think we are thinking too far ahead."
Top-ranked Wake Forest didn't have its best day, carding an 11-over 299, but at 6-under, the Demon Deacons are tied for second place with Texas.
“The course is changing and not playing the same as it did the first two days," said Wake Forest head coach Kim Lewellen. "The rough is getting thicker and the greens are getting faster, so we need to make some adjustments. We started to do that toward the end of the round today, but we didn’t do them in the beginning.
"We have a lot of veterans on our team that have all stepped up. Emotions are always high in events like this but if we can channel those emotions and use them to our advantage it can help a lot. We will go back to our game plan and make some adjustments tonight so we can come out tomorrow and finish strong inside the top eight for match play.”
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The first cut
The field was trimmed from 30 teams down to 15 for Monday's final round of qualifying, which made for an anxious afternoon for a handful of teams looking to keep their championship dreams alive.
Five teams -- SMU, Mississippi State, San Jose State, Baylor and Duke -- were tightly bunched around the cutline. With SMU (+17) and San Jose State (+18) in the clubhouse, Mississippi State played its last three holes 4-under to jump SMU into the 14th spot leaving San Jose State on the outside looking in.
The Bulldogs and Spartans, along with New Mexico (+12) and LSU (+13), will have their work cut out for themselves tomorrow if they are to crack the top eight, where Arizona and Texas A&M are currently holding the last two match play cards at 5-under.
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USC's Park takes over the individual lead
USC's Catherine Park moved into the driver's seat in the race for the individual title with a scintillating 8-under 64 in her second round on Saturday and following a solid 71 in round three, the talented USC freshman maintained her spot atop the leaderboard heading into Monday's final round.
At 10-under, Park will sleep on a two-shot lead over San Jose State's Lucia Lopez Ortega while Stanford's Zhang and LSU's Ingrid Lindblad, the top two female amateurs in the world, along with Maddison Hinson-Tolchard of Oklahoma State, are just four back at 6-under.
Park was threatening to run away and hide after her fifth birdie of the day on the 13th hole left her at 4-under on her round and 13-under for the tournament. However, three bogeys over her final five holes gave the pack of pursuers hope heading into Monday's final round.
"I think my game was not bad today," said Park, who is trying to become USC's sixth NCAA medalist and first since Doris Chen (2014) and Annie Park (2013) won back-to-back. "I had a couple of holes that were tough down the stretch. My main goal is to just stay with my routine and be committed to my targets. Our team is in a pretty good position going into tomorrow and we have our sights set on making match play. One step at a time."
If Park is to win the individual title, she'll have to fend off, among others, her childhood friend and defending champion Zhang, who will be gunning for her 12th collegiate victory in her 20th start.
"I think the entire field felt how difficult the greens were today out there on the golf course, it was a little firmer for everyone to play and the rough was a little thicker," said Zhang. "You really had to be precise, but everyone has been grinding the last couple of days, energy levels are low. For me personally, I just couldn’t convert as many putts as I would like and I think putting in a little putting session will get me prepared for the next couple of days.
Wake Forest senior Lauren Walsh, who held the 36-hole lead at 10-under par, carded a 7-over 79 on Sunday, which included an 11 on the par-5 fourth hole, to tumble into a tie for 11th at 3-under.
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The final round of stroke play to determine the eight qualifying teams for the match play portion of the event along with the NCAA women's individual champion will take place on Monday at Grayhawk.
Golf Channel will provide fourth-round coverage beginning at 5:00 p.m. ET. Golf Channel will also televise the quarterfinals and semifinals team matches on Tuesday, along with Wednesday's championship match.