Continuing a roll that began Easter weekend at the Lady Buckeye Invitational, Big Ten champion Michigan State, No. 53 in the latest Golfstat rankings, grabbed the lead over some marquee names after the opening round of the Athens Regional at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga.
Led by Sarah Burnham, a junior from Maple Grove, Minn. who was the runnerup at the Big Ten Championship, the Spartans carded a 4-under 284 over the 6,344-yard, par-72 UGA layout to give them a six-shot lead over No. 3 Alabama, which opened with a 2-over 290.
No. 8 Georgia, playing on its home course, is another three shots behind its SEC rival Alabama in third at 5-over 293. Michigan State’s Big Ten rival, Northwestern, ranked 11th, is fourth at 7-over 295, No. 19 Baylor is fifth at 8-over 296 and No. 31 Tennessee is sixth at 9-over 297. The top six teams in the 54-hole event will advance to the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
No. 35 North Carolina sits five shots out of that top six in a tie for ninth after an opening-round 302 and injury-plagued Wake Forest, ranked 22nd, is 15th at 308.
Michigan State followed up a victory in the Lady Buckeye with a stunning final-round surge to the Big Ten title, blowing by Northwestern in the process. The Spartans are way too full of confidence to notice that they are ranked 53rd and seeded 14th in the Athens Regional.
Burnham carded a 3-under 69 and is in a group of three players tied for second, a shot back of Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho, a sophomore from Littleton, Colo. who grabbed the individual lead with a 4-under 68.
Katie Sharp, a redshirt junior from Kendallsville, Ind., gave Michigan State another player in the top five in the individual standings as she carded a 2-under 70 and is tied for fifth. The Spartans continued to get fearless play from a pair of freshmen, Paz Marfa Sans of Spain who is tied for seventh after posting a 1-under 71 and Allyson Geer of Brighton, Mich. who is tied for 23rd at 2-over 74. Carolyn Markley, a sophomore from Maineville, Ohio is tied for 38th at 4-over 76 for the Spartans.
Joining Burnham in the group tied for second are Clemson’s Alice Hewson, a sophomore from the United Kingdom, and Alabama’s Lauren Stephenson, a sophomore form Lexington, S.C. Sharing fifth with Sharp at 2-under 70 is Georgia’s Jillian Hollis, a sophomore from Rocky River, Ohio.
North Carolina was led by Leslie Cloots, a senior from Belgium who is tied for seventh after breaking par with a 1-under 71.
It was a bit of a struggle for the rest of the Tar Heels, though. Bryana Nguyen, a junior from Columbia, Md., is tied for 23rd after carding a 2-over 74, Kelly Whaley, a sophomore from Farmington, Conn., is tied for 64th with a 78 and Lexi Harkins, a junior from Crystal Lake, Ill., is tied for 67th with a 79. Freshman Brynn Walker, a two-time PIAA Class AAA champion at Radnor, is tied for 83rd after posting an 81 in her debut on the NCAA Regional stage.
Wake Forest, which obviously got a tremendous round from Kupcho, got one of its injured stars healthy, but couldn’t get the other one ready in time to tee it up in Athens. Antonia Eberhard, a sophomore from Germany, returned to the lineup after missing time with a nagging chest muscle injury and is in the group tied for 83rd with Walker at 81. Sierra Brooks, a freshman from Sorrento, Fla. and the runnerup at the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur, has been slow to recover from wrist surgery in December and was not in the lineup.
Sierra Sims, a senior from Austin, Texas, is tied for 54th after posting a 5-over 77. Junior Erica Herr, a two-time PIAA Class AAA champion at Council Rock North, is tied for 85th with an 82 and Anna Wears, a sophomore from Durham, N.C., is tied for 95th with an 88.
At the Albuquerque Regional, No. 36 Pepperdine jumped in front of a foursome of chasers from the Pac-12 with a 1-under 287 at the University of New Mexico’s South Championship Course.
No. 1 Stanford is three shots back of the West Coast Conference runnerup Waves at 2-over 290 and No. 6 Southern California, No. 26 California and No. 46 Washington, the reigning national champion, are tied for third at 7-over 295. ACC champion Duke, ranked ninth, is tied with No. 48 Campbell for sixth at 9-over 297.
Pepperdine was led by Tatiana Wijaya, a junior from Indonesia, who carded a 2-under 70 over the 6,637-yard, par-72 South Course layout and is alone in second place in the individual standings a shot back of North Carolina State’s Laura Kowohl, a sophomore from Germany, who grabbed the lead with a 3-under 69.
The Wave also have two of the 10 players in the logjam tied for fourth at even-par 72. They are Hira Naveed, a sophomore from Australia, and Patricia Wong, a sophomore from Walnut, Calif. Momoka Kobori, a freshman from New Zealand is tied for14th with a 1-over 73 and Katherine Zhu, a junior from Canada is tied for 73rd with a 79.
Stanford’s Albane Valenzuela, a freshman from Switzerland and the No. 4 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, is alone in third place after posting 1-under 71. Two of Valenzula’s veteran teammates, Casey Danielson, a senior from Osceola, Wis., and Shannon Aubert, a junior from Stuart, Fla., are in the large group tied for fourth at even-par 72.
The Ohio State University’s tough Scarlet Course, where Michigan State won the Lady Buckeye last month, played host to the Columbus Regional and No. 4 Florida picked up right where it left off when it won the SEC Championship.
The Gators carded a 9-over 297 in tough conditions over the challenging 6,416-yad, par-72 Scarlet Course layout to grab a two-shot lead over in-state rival Florida State, ranked fifth. The Seminoles posted an 11-over 299.
A couple of Big Ten teams thrived in typical Big Ten conditions as host Ohio State, ranked 29th, and No. 28 Purdue are tied for third at 14-over 302. No. 21 Texas A&M is fifth at 20-over 308 and No. 13 Arkansas and No. 12 South Carolina are tied for sixth at 21-over 209.
The balanced Gators were led by Marta Perez, a freshman from Spain who is tied for fourth after carding a 1-over 73. Kelly Grassel, a senior from Chesterton, Ind., is tied for seventh at 2-over 74. Maria Torres, a senior from Puerto Rico, and Taylor Tomlinson, a junior from Gainesville, Fla., are in a group tied for 12th at 3-over 75 and Karolina Vickova, a senior from the Czech Republic, is tied for 32nd with an 80.
Purdue’s Marta Martin, a junior from Spain, has struggled mightily at times this spring, but she put that behind her as she grabbed the individual lead with a 2-under 70. Wisconsin’s Gabby Curtis, a junior from Altoona, Wis., and Florida State’s Morgane Metraux, a junior from Switzerland, are tied for second at even-par 72.
The Pac-12 was also flexing its considerable muscle at the Lubbock Regional with three teams at the top of the leaderboard, led by No. 7 Arizona State, which carded a 5-over 293 over The Rawls Course, a 6,593-yard, par-72 layout.
No. 47 Oregon is second, a shot back of the Sun Devils at 6-over 294 and No. 2 UCLA, an impressive winner of the Pac-12 Championship, is tied for third with Texas Tech, the host team out of the Big 12, at 8-over 296. Brigham Young is fifth at 9-over 297 and No. 30 San Diego State is sixth at 10-over 298.
The Sun Devils were led by senior Monica Vaughn, a 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team member from Reedsport, Ore. who is among a trio of players tied for fourth at 1-under 71.
Three of Vaughn’s teammates landed in a group tied for 16th at 2-over 74, including Olivia Mehaffey, a freshman from Ireland who is No. 9 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, and Linnea Strom, a sophomore from Sweden who is No. 10 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. Sophia Zeeb, a junior from Germany, is also in that group. Roberta Liti, a junior from Italy, is tied for 26th a shot behind her trio of teammates with a 75.
There is no hotter player in college golf than UCLA’s Lilia Vu, a sophomore from Fountain Valley, Calif., so it’s not a big surprise to see her atop the individual standings. Vu, who comes into the regional riding a streak of four straight individual tournament victories, carded a 4-under 68 to take a one-shot lead over Oregon’s Cathleen Santoso, a senior from Australia.
Kent State’s Pimnipa Panthong, a freshman from Thailand, is alone in third place at 2-under 70. Joining Arizona State’s Vaughn in the group tied for fourth at 1-under 71 are Texas’ Sophia Schubert, a junior from Oak Ridge, Tenn. who has been on a pretty good streak herself, and BYU’s Alex White, a senior from Lompoc, Calif.