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Monday, February 12, 2018

UCLA, Alabama tied at Northrop Grumman; Arkansas holds on to top spot in Puerto Rico

   The final round of the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge is shaping up as an epic battle royale among the elite of women’s Division I college golf. And the spring portion of the 2017-’18 season is just getting started.
   I was so excited at the prospect of a field that included eight of the top-10 players in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, I failed to mention that the 18-team field included seven of the eight teams that reached match play in the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms last spring.
   UCLA, No. 1 in the latest Golfstat rankings, and No. 3 Alabama are tied after two rounds over the Palos Verdes Golf Club in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. The top-ranked Bruins, the reigning Pac-12 champions,  and the Crimson Tide each matched par with 284 team totals over the 6,017-yard, par-71 Palos Verdes layout Monday after each opened with a 292 Sunday and are tied at the top with 8-over-par 576 totals.
   But this is much more than a two-team race. Arizona, the party-crasher at No. 39 in the rankings, is just a shot back in third after a 292 left the Wildcats at 9-over 577. Reigning national champion Arizona State, ranked sixth, is six shots behind its in-state rival in fourth at 583 after carding a 298. The Wildcats and the Sun Devils had shared the opening-round lead after each matched par at 284.
   No. 5 Stanford is alone in fifth, another four shots behind Arizona State at 587 after a 292. Atlantic Coast Conference champion Duke, the No. 2 team in the country, shares sixth place with reigning Southeast Conference champion Florida, ranked 18th, at 589. The Blue Devils carded a 292 Monday while the Gators checked in with a 293.
   Tournament host Ohio State is alone in 14th place at 605 after a second-round 305. And yes, the Buckeyes are one of those seven teams in this field that were among the final eight standing for match play in the NCAA Championship last spring.
   Arizona State’s Olivia Mehaffey, a sophomore from Ireland, sits atop an individual leaderboard filled with people at or near the top of the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, Curtis Cuppers, a U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, freshmen phenoms, you name it.
   Mehaffey is one of those Curtis Cuppers, a member of the winning Great Britain & Ireland team in 2016 at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in suburban Dublin.
   Mehaffey, No. 12 in the Women’s WAGR, added an even-par 71 to her opening-round 68 for a 3-under 139 that gave her a one-shot edge on two of the leading ladies in a class of fabulous freshmen around the country.
   They would be Texas’ Kaitlyn Papp of Austin, Texas and UCLA’s Patty Tavatanakit, the No. 13 player in the Women’s WAGR from Thailand, who are tied for second at  2-under 140. Papp added an even-par 71 to her opening-round 69 while Tavatanakit had one of the five sub-70 scores for the day, a 2-under 69.
   Tavatanakit’s teammate, Beth Wu, a junior from Diamond Bar, Calif. and a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup side in 2016, is one of three players tied for fourth at even-par 142, two shots behind Papp and Tavatanakit. Wu added a 72 to her opening-round 70.
   UCLA’s Lilia Vu, a junior from Fountain Valley, Calif. and the No. 2 player in the Women’s WAGR, is one of five players tied for ninth at 2-over 144 after she ripped off one of the other sub-70 rounds, a 2-under 69.
   Rounding out the UCLA lineup were Mariel Galdiano, a sophomore from Pearl City, Hawaii and another U.S. Curtis Cupper in 2016 who is tied for 54th at 152 after carding a 74, and Joo Seo, a senior from Laguna Niguel, Calif. who is tied for 64th at 155 after posting a 79. Galdiano, by the way, was the qualifying medalist in the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club after a brilliant 6-under 65 in the second round that I had the distinct pleasure to witness.
   Leading the way for Alabama is Lauren Stephenson, a junior from Lexington, S.C. who joined UCLA’s Wu and Arizona’s Yu-Sang Hou, a freshman from Taiwan, in the group tied for fourth at even-par 142. Stephenson had the best round of the day, a 3-under 68, while Hou added a 1-under 70 to her opening-round 72.
   Stephenson is No. 8 in the Women’ WAGR and the scary part about the Crimson Tide is that she is just one of three Alabama players in the top 10. Teammate Kristen Gillman of Austin, Texas – she’s the U.S. Women’s Amateur champ in the field having accomplished that prestigious feat as a 16-year-old at Nassau Country Club in 2014 – is a notch behind Stephenson in the Women’s WAGR at No. 9.  Gillman added a 3-over 74 to her opening-round 69 and is tied for seventh at 1-over 143 with Arizona’s Gigi Stoll, a junior from Tigard, Ore. who carded a 1-over 72 Monday.
   Cheyenne Knight, a junior from Aledo, Texas, is the highest-rated player from Alabama in the Women’s WAGR at No. 6. She is tied for 23rd at 5-over 147 after matching par with a 71.
   The Tide’s senior leader, Lakareber Abe of Angleton, Texas, is part of that marquee group tied for ninth at 2-over 144. Abe also matched par with a 71 Monday after opening up with a 73. Rounding out the Alabama lineup was Angelica Moresco, a freshman from Italy, who is in the group tied for 64th at 155 after posting a 77.
   There’s another big name in that fivesome tied for ninth at 144 that includes UCLA’s Vu and Alabama’s Abe. That would be the No. 1 player in the Women’s WAGR, Duke’s Leona Maguire, a senior from Ireland and yeah, a member of that winning GB&I Curtis Cup team two years ago along with Mehaffey.
   Maguire, who won the Annika Award that goes to the top player in women’s college golf for the second time in three years last spring, had the fifth of the sub-70 rounds Monday, a 2-under 69 after opening up with a 75. You think she’s got some people looking over their shoulders in the race for the individual title?
   Rounding out that quintet at 144 are Oklahoma State’s Chih-Min Chen, a junior from Taiwan, and another of those freshman phenoms, Stanford’s Mika Liu of Beverly Hills, Calif. Chen added a 74 to her opening-round 70 while the steady Liu carded a second straight 72.
   The Northrop Grumman hands out regional titles, hence the tournament’s title. Not sure exactly how that works. What I do know is that many of the best women’s college players and teams are going to be battling it out in what should be an fascinating finish.
   At the Lady Puerto Rico Classic, hosted by Purdue at Rio Mar Country Club’s Ocean Course in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Arkansas, No. 4 in the latest Golfstat rankings, retained the team lead on what appears to have been a tough scoring day.
   The Razorbacks, behind individual leader Maria Fassi, a junior from Mexico, carded an 18-over 302 after opening with an even-par 284 for an 18-over 586 total. No. 26 Iowa State had the day’s best round, an 11-over 295, which, combined with Cyclones’ opening-round 296, gave them a 23-over 591 total that left them just five shots behind Arkansas.
   No. 22 Kent State, which was the last of the eight teams to advance to match play in the NCAA Championship last spring at Rich Harvest Farms, is third at 584 after a second-round 302. No. 43 North Carolina State is another six shots behind Kent State in fourth at 500 after a 301 and No. 65 Texas Christian rounds out the top five in fifth at 603 after carding a 306.
   Host Purdue, the second-highest ranked team in the field at No. 17, got out of last place in the 11-team field with a 305 that moved the Boilermakers into 10th at 617.
   Fassi had opened with a 3-under-par 68 over the 5,981-yard, par-71 Ocean Course layout, but fell back a little with a 4-over 75 in Monday’s second round. Still, her 1-over 143 total gives her a two-shot lead heading into Tuesday’s final round.
   Iowa State’s Celia Barquin Arozamena, a senior from Spain, matched the day’s best round, an even-par 71 and is alone in second place at 3-over 145. Barquin Arozamena opened with a 3-over 74.
Fassi’s teammate, Dylan Kim, a junior from Plano, Texas, is among three players tied for fifth at 5-over 147 after carding a 5-over 76.
   Arkansas’ best score of the day came from Jordy LaBarbera, a senior from Allen, Texas who carded a 3-over 74, although that left her as the lowest Razorback in the individual standings in a tie for 43rd at 158.
   Three other Arkansas players, Alana Uriell, a senior from Carlsbad, Calif., Maria Hoyos, a freshman from Colombia, and Kaylee Barton, a junior from Buckeye, Ariz., each carded a 77 Tuesday. That left Uriell tied for 11th at 7-over 149, Moyos tied for 13th at 150 and Benton alone in 37th at 155.
   East Carolina’s Carley Cox, a junior from China Grove, N.C., and North Carolina State’s India Clyburn, a junior from England, are tied for third in the individual standings, a shot behind Barquin Arozamena at 4-over 146. Cox matched the low round of the day with an even-par 71 and Clyburn carded her second straight 2-over 73.
   Joining Arkansas’ Kim in the trio tied for fifth at 5-over 147 are Colorado’s Robyn Choi, a sophomore from Australia, and Kent State’s Michaela Finn, a junior from Sweden. Choi carded a solid 1-over 72 while Finn, who opened with an even-par 71, slipped back with a 76.
   Leading the way for the host Boilers was Inez Wannamarten, a freshman from Indonesia who added a 2-over 73 to her opening-round 77 for a 150 total that left her in the group tied for 13th. Micaela Farah, a sophomore from Peru, added a 77 to her opening-round 76 and is tied for 23rd at 153.
   Ida Ayu Indira Melati Putri, a junior from Indonesia, bounced back from an opening-round 83 with a 75 that left her tied for 43rd at 158. Marta Martin, a senior from Spain, is another shot behind Melati Putri at 159 after posting an 80.
   Martin’s fellow senior Linn Andersson of Sweden is alone in 59th at 163 after carding an 83 and Lauren Guiao,  a freshman from Evansville, Ind., is alone in 65th at 172 after a second straight 86.

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