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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Alabama in its comfort zone in rolling to Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic title

   The Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic is played at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga., the home course, obviously, of the Bulldogs.
   But this group of Alabama players seemed to have found something of a comfort zone in the backyard of one of their biggest rivals.
   After building a 12-shot advantage through Friday’s double-round, the Crimson Tide, No. 2 in the latest Golfstat rankings, eased to a 1-under-par 287 over the 6,279-yard, par-72 UGA Golf Course layout in Saturday’s final round to cruise to a 16-shot victory over a very strong field. Roll Tide indeed.
   It was reminiscent of Alabama’s 14-shot victory in last spring’s NCAA Athens Regional when they dominated a field that included eventual NCAA Championship runnerup Northwestern.
   Lauren Stephenson, a junior from Lexington, S.C., and Cheyenne Knight, a junior from Aledo, Texas, finished in a tie for second then. This time they shared medalist honors at 7-under 209.
   Stephenson and Knight are the No. 7 and No. 11 players in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), respectively, and they have been stalwarts on some very good Alabama teams the last three years. So maybe it was fitting that they shared the top spot in the Liz Murphey, one of the highlights of the women’s college golf schedule each spring.
   They helped Alabama post a winning total of 15-under 849, leaving two very good teams, No. 3 Arkansas and No. 5 Duke, choking on the Crimson Tide’s exhaust fumes. The Razorbacks carded a 3-over 291 in the final round while the Blue Devils had the day’s best round, a 3-under 285, as the two powerhouses finished tied for second at 1-over 865.
   Host Georgia showed its affinity for its home track as the Bulldogs finished up with a 2-under 286 to claim fourth at 7-over 871. That performance should at least move Georgia up a little in the rankings from the inexplicable No. 44 the Bulldogs took into their tournament.
   No. 42 Baylor might be moving up, too, as the Bears carded a final round of 4-over 292 to finish alone in fifth in the strong 12-team field at 16-over 880, nine shots behind Georgia.
   But this edition of the Liz Murphey was all about the Crimson Tide. The event was originally scheduled to be played over three days, but with some wild weather predicted for Sunday, it was played in two days with a double-round Friday. Didn’t matter to Alabama.
   Stephenson fired her second straight 3-under 69 Saturday after opening with a 1-under 71 Friday morning to catch Knight, who had opened with a sparkling 7-under 65 and took a three-shot lead in the battle for individual honors into Saturday’s final round. She cooled off a little with a 1-over 73, but still shared medalist honors with Stephenson at 7-under.
   The third member of Alabama’s powerful top three, Kristen Gillman, a sophomore from Austin, Texas, finished in a tie for sixth at 3-under 213. Gillman, No. 12 in the Women’s WAGR and the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, matched par in the final round with a 72.
   Angelica Moresco, a freshman from Italy, came up big for Alabama as she finished tied for 14th at 2-over 218. Her opening-round 70 was a big part of the 12-under 276 jump the Crimson Tide got on the field  Friday morning. Moresco finished up with a 1-over 73 Saturday.
   It was a bit of a disappointing weekend for Lakareber Abe, a senior from Angleton, Texas who finished in the group tied for 50th at 234 after a final-round 79. But Abe has been through it all these last four years. She’ll be there at some point when Alabama needs her.
   Abe’s fellow senior, Nicole Morales of Salem, N.Y., competed as an individual and finished tied for 33rd at 226 after a final-round 77.
   Maybe the true measure of the quality of the individual triumphs for Stephenson and Knight is the two players who shared third place, a shot behind them at 6-under 210.
   One of them was Duke’s Leona Maguire, the No. 2 player in the Women’s WAGR and a two-time winner of the Annika Award. Maguire finished up with a 1-under 71 after going 70-69 in Friday’s double-round.
   The other was Georgia’s Jillian Hollis, a junior from Rocky River, Ohio and one of the best players in Division I. Hollis had the same line as Maguire, finishing up with a 1-under 71 to get a piece of third.
   Jiwon Jeon, a sophomore from South Korea, plays for junior college powerhouse Daytona State. I’m guessing she’s the best junior college player in the country. She sure looked like it while firing a 3-under 69 that left her alone in fifth place at 5-under 211.
   Duke’s fabulous freshman, Jaravee Boonchant of Thailand, shared sixth place with Alabama’s Gillman at 3-under 213. After carding a pair of 2-under 70s in Friday’s double-round, Boonchant finished up with a 1-over 73.
   Louisville’s Lauren Hartlage, a sophomore from Elizabethtown, Ky., finished alone in eighth at 2-under 214. Hartlage, who opened with a sizzling 6-under 66 Friday morning, posted a final  round of 3-over 75.

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