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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Northwestern grabs the lead on a Big Ten kind of day

   Wind. Rain. Cold. Sounds like Big Ten weather to me.
   Rich Harvest Farms proved to be an inhospitable host for the opening round of the NCAA Championship Friday, but many of the Big Ten players shrugged, put on their cold-weather gear and got after it in Sugar Grove, Ill.
   Perennial Big Ten power Northwestern, No. 12 in the latest Golfstat rankings, grabbed the lead in the team standings with a 13-over 301. That’s right, 13-over was the best any of these talented teams could do as the 6,343-yard, par-72 Rich Harvest Farms layout turned as nasty as the weather, which featured wind chills in the 30s.
   The individual standings? Yeah, how about the last two Big Ten individual champions tied at the top, each carding a hard-earned even-par 72. That would be 2016 conference champ August Kim, a senior at Purdue from St. Augustine, Fla., and 2017 conference champ Elodie Van Dievoet, a sophomore at Michigan from Belgium.
    Oh and Ohio State’s Katja Pogacar, a senior from Slovenia, battled her way into the foursome tied for fifth at 2-over 74 while leading the No. 25 Buckeyes to a tie for third in the team standings at 23-over 311. It was that kind of day. A Big Ten kind of day.
   No. 14 Kent State is alone in second place at 15-over 303, two shots behind Northwestern. Joining Ohio State in the group tied for third at 311 were No. 1 Stanford, No. 7 Arizona State and No. 17 Baylor, so some of the top-quality teams in the field made sure they stayed in the hunt, no matter what the weather.
   No. 11 South Carolina was another two shots behind that quartet, the Gamecocks alone in seventh at 25-over 313. Freshman Brynn Walker, who helped Radnor win a PIAA girls and a PIAA boys championship during her high school days, and North Carolina, ranked 35th, are another shot back of South Carolina in eighth place at 26-over 314.
   Behind co-leader Kim, Purdue, ranked 24th, got a share of ninth at 27-over 315 along with No. 6 Southern California and, surprise, another Big Ten team, No. 28 Michigan, behind the other co-leader Van Dievoet.
   The top 15 teams following Sunday’s third round will advance to the fourth round Monday. Only the top eight after Monday will move on to match play, which gets started Tuesday.
   After round 1, the team alone at the top was Northwestern. The Wildcats have been the best team in the Big Ten for a while. It looked like they were going to roll to the conference title last month at TPC River’s Bend in Maineville, Ohio when they stumbled just a little in the final round and Michigan State blew by them to deny them the Big Ten crown.
   But they got back to business at the Athens Regional, finishing second behind No. 3 Alabama – and edging Michigan State by a shot. And when the weather turned bad Friday, Northwestern was more than ready.
   The Wildcats were led by Janet Mao, a sophomore from Johns Creek, Ga. who carded a 1-over 73 to share third place in the individual standings with Kent State’s Karoline Stormo, a freshman from Norway.
   Northwestern had two other players sneak into the top 10 as Hannah Kim, a junior from Chula Vista, Calif., and Stephanie Lau, a sophomore from Fullerton, Calif., are in the group tied for ninth at 3-over 75. Rounding out the Wildcats’ lineup were two players tied for 33rd at 6-over 78, Kacie Komoto, their veteran senior from Honolulu, Hawaii, and Sarah Cho, a  junior from San Diego.
   North Carolina, the highest-ranked team in the top 10 after day 1, probably thought the two 77s and three 80s it put on the board in the morning wave would bury the Tar Heels. Then they sat there all afternoon and watched as their 314 total kept looking better and better.
Bryana Nguyen, a junior from Columbia, Md., and Lexi Harkins, a junior from Crystal Lake, Ill., each came in with 77 and are in the group tied for 19th. Walker, Leslie Cloots, a senior from Belgium who is putting the finishing touches on one of the best careers in the history of the program, and Kelly Whaley, a sophomore from Farmington, Conn., each came in at 80 and are the group tied for 56th.
   Backing up Kim for Purdue was Ida Ayu Indira Melati Putri, a sophomore from Bali who is tied for 44th with a 79.
   Also for the Boilermakers, Michaela Farah, a freshman from Peru, and Marta Martin, a junior from Spain, each carded an 82 and are in a group tied for 80th. Covadonga SanJuan, a sophomore from Spain, is tied for 102nd after posting an 84.
   Among the foursome tied for fifth with Ohio State’s Pogacar in the individual standings at 2-over 74 is Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho, a sophomore from Westminster, Colo. who has been one of the best players in the country since she first teed it up with the Demon Deacons. Kupcho is coming off the individual title in the Athens Regional.
   Also in that group is Arizona State senior Monica Vaughn, a senior from Reedsport, Ore. and a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team a year ago. Vaughn was the medalist in the Lubbock Regional. Rounding out the quartet at 2-over 74 was Pepperdine’s Hira Naveed, a sophomore from Australia.
   Nine individuals not from one of the 15 surviving teams after Sunday will join the fray Monday for the final round that will determine the individual national champion.

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