It would be tough for North Carolina, ranked 32nd by Golfstat, to complain about a fourth-place finish in the Central District Invitational hosted by Michigan State at the St. Lucie Trail Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla. to open the spring portion of its schedule.
But the Tar Heels and the rest of the field had to feel a little blindsided by No. 7 Furman, which finished 23 shots clear of the field with an even-par 864 after a final round of 5-over 293 Tuesday.
The Paladins were playing in their second event of the spring and it showed. After leading through two rounds of last week’s Lady Puerto Rico Classic, Furman was overtaken by North Carolina State and finished tied for second.
There was no catching Furman this week as the Paladins started fast with a 6-under 282 in the first round, built a 14-shot advantage through two rounds and were never threatened Tuesday. The Paladins placed four players in the top six in the final individual standings.
That group was led by individual champion Alice Chen, a junior from Princeton, N.J. Chen had a final round of 2-over 74 over the 6,265-yard, par-72 St. Lucie Trail layout for a 1-under 215 total. She edged Memphis’ Michaela Fletcher, a redshirt sophomore from South Africa, by a shot after Fletcher had the day’s best round, a 4-under 68, to finish at even-par 216. St. Lucie Trail appeared to play quite a bit tougher than it did during Monday’s double round.
Fletcher helped No. 100 Memphis claim runnerup honors as the Tigers had the day’s best team score, a 1-under 287, to finish at 23-over 887. No. 49 Louisville was another three shots back in third at 890 after a final-round 305. North Carolina was six shots behind the Cardinals in fourth at 896 after a final-round 297. No. 64 Maryland was fifth at 900 after a final-round 299 and host Michigan State, ranked 98th, and No. 44 Augusta University shared sixth place at 909. The Wolverines had a final-round 305 while Augusta struggled home with a 313.
Furman’s other Jersey girl, Taylor Totland, a senior from Tinton Falls, N.J., finished third in the individual chase at 1-over 217 after a final-round 77. Natalie Srinivasan, a freshman from Spartanburg, S.C., finished fifth at 3-over 219 after a final-round 74. And Haylee Harford, a sophomore from Leavittsburg, Ohio., was another shot back in sixth at 220 after a 1-under 71. Harford earned a share of the individual title in Puerto Rico last week.
Louisville was led by Lauren Hartlage, a freshman from Elizabethtown, Ky. who finished fourth in the individual standings at 2-pover 218. Hartlage posted a final-round 78.
It wasn’t exactly the start to the spring campaign that veteran North Carolina coach Jan Mann envisioned, but there were some things to build on for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina got a pair of top-10 finishes as Kelly Whaley, a sophomore from Farmington, Conn., and Bryana Nguyen, a junior from Columbia, Md., were among the players tied for seventh at 5-over 221. Both signed for a 2-over 74 in the final round.
Brynn Walker, the two-time PIAA champion from Radnor, snuck into the top 20, the freshman finishing tied for 20th at 9-over 225. Walker, installed into the starting lineup from Day 1 of her freshman campaign, had a final-round 75.
Leslie Coots, a senior from Belgium, finished 32nd at 230 after a final-round 74. Rachel Jones, a senior from Asheboro, N.C., finished tied for 63rd at 242 after struggling home in the final round with an 86.