NCAA golf notebook: Southern Cal expands lead to 17 strokes entering final round

Thursday began with Southern California looking to preserve a double-digit lead over the rest of the field.

The Trojans emerged from a wind-blown start to Round 3 of the NCAA National Women’s Golf Championships with not only their advantage intact but with it bigger than in the morning with a 3-under 285 at the UGA Golf Course. Southern Cal will go into today’s final round at 19 under with a 17-stroke lead on second place Duke.

“I’m excited to play tomorrow and I’m glad we could keep that cushion,” Southern Cal junior Sophia Popov said. “I was really worried at the beginning when it was so windy and I think that’s why I was so nervous. It’s easy to say, ‘Well you guys have a 14-shot lead. But that’s almost a harder position to be in because you have to protect that instead of being super aggressive. You have to be a little more conservative in how you approach the golf course. I think we’re going to have to do the same thing tomorrow but try to stay aggressive at the same time and try to have fun out there.”

Southern Cal started the third round at 16 under and 14 strokes ahead of then-second-place Alabama. The Trojans finished the third round at 19 under, 17 strokes ahead of second-place Duke at 2 under and 28 strokes ahead of Alabama, Purdue and UCLA at 9 over.

Thursday’s leaders played in the afternoon, which started with swirling winds on the course. But by the end of the rounds, the winds had lifted. The groups with USC, Duke and Purdue will start teeing off at 12:59 p.m. The groups with Alabama, UCLA and Arizona State start teeing off at 11:53 p.m.

“I think it’s incredible that we increased our lead because we’d seen a little bit of it drop off in the middle of round,” Southern Cal coach Andrea Gaston said. “Things were a little bit iffy because there are some key holes on that back side. It doesn’t make it an easy ride because everybody’s got to still wake up in the morning and be healthy and swing their clubs and sign scorecards. It’s all about taking care of business.”

Annie Park led USC for the third straight day with a 2-under 70. Kyung Kim shot a 3-under 69, Doris Chen shot an even-par 72, Popov shot plus-2 74 and Rachel Morris shot plus-7 79 for the Trojans.

Duke started the day in third place at 1 under. Although the Blue Devils gained a stroke on par, they lost ground to the leader.

“We need to stay poised and calm,” Duke coach Dan Brooks said. “We need to think clearly and don’t press and try to do spectacular things. That’s just doesn’t pay off. The only way we’re going to win this is if a whole bunch of putts fall. We need to play some good, solid, relatively conservative golf and hopefully some putts fall for us.”

Duke’s Lindy Duncan made a big move up the individual leaderboard. She shot a 1-under 71 to jump from 15th into a tie for seventh.

“I feel pretty good,” Duncan said. “The conditions were really tough but we were playing some really strong golf and hopefully we’re within striking distance for tomorrow.”

Burger still struggling with putter

Georgia’s Emilie Burger had putter problems for the third straight day and shot a 3-over 75 on Thursday to remain in the lower third of the individual standings.

“My putter has let me down but you have those weeks,” Burger said. “This just has not been my week, but that’s all right. I’m sure there will be another week another time. I’m just kind of having fun right now. I’m going to see if I can go out tomorrow with a big low number. I’m just going to try to do everything I can to go out with a bang. It wears on you. But it’s my last time here and my last time being an amateur. I’m just going to enjoy the moment and have as much fun as I can.”

Burger will begin her last collegiate round at 12:45 p.m. today.

Burger’s Thursday round included two birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey. She has a three-round total of 11-over 277 and is in a tie for 72nd place among individuals.

“I wish I had something better to tell her,” Georgia coach Josh Brewer said. “She’s hitting it well but there’s one or two swings that lead to a bogey or a double. There aren’t any putts falling. I’m going to try to think of something good to tell her tomorrow and we’re going to enjoy our last 18 holes together, I promise.”

Tide slides in Round 3

Defending champion Alabama began the day in second place and looking to cut into Southern Cal’s 14-stroke lead. But the Crimson Tide’s scores ballooned in the windy early afternoon, leaving them 28 strokes adrift of the Trojans at the end of the day.

“I think the wind affected us more than I’d like to admit,” Alabama coach Mic Potter said. “I think the interesting thing was it affected our putting more than anything else. Usually you think of wind affecting shots in the air. But today it just seemed like we had a lot of trouble getting stabilized over the ball. We missed a lot of short putts that at the time could have swung the momentum.”

Alabama’s Stephanie Meadow fell out of first place in the individual standings after shooting a 1-over 73 in the third round. Meadow is tied with Mississippi State’s Ally McDonald in second place at 7 under, two strokes behind Southern Cal’s Annie Park at 9 under.

“I wasn’t very good to start off with but it could have been a lot worse,” Meadow said. “I definitely chipped and putted to save myself but that’s what you have to do to win championships. You have to make the best out of rounds.”

Mississippi State’s McDonald makes move

Mississippi State sophomore Ally McDonald jumped to the top of the individual leaderboard briefly on Thursday and finished the day tied for second. McDonald shot a 2-under 72 to settle into a tie for second place among individuals with top-ranked Meadow and No. 2 Park. McDonald played in the morning when the weather was cool and calm. Meadow and Park played with a windy start to the afternoon rounds. Because Mississippi State sits No. 18 in the standings, McDonald will tee off at 9:09 a.m. Meadow and Park will play in the same group and will tee off at 1:43 p.m.

“They really no control over what I do,” McDonald said. “It’s basically me, the ball and my clubs. I’m going to go out there with the same mentality to play the way I want to play and hit the shot that I want to hit and where that puts me in the end, I can’t control. It all depends on how everyone else does and how the field does.”

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