Alabama, No. 2 in the latest Golfstat rankings, continued to make it clear that it is going to be one tough customer in the postseason as the Crimson Tide, behind individual leader Cheyenne Knight, a junior from Aledo, Texas, stormed to a 12-shot lead after two rounds of the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic Friday in Athens, Ga.
The Liz Murphey has long been one of the top events on the spring calendar and even incorporated a little match play in recent years to prepare teams for the match-play portion of the NCAA Championship. But this year’s event is a 54-hole stroke-play event and with the threat for severe weather Sunday, it was decided to condense the Liz Murphey into two days with a double-round Friday.
It certainly didn’t bother Knight and the Crimson Tide as Knight, the No. 11 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), posted a sizzling 7-under 65 over the 6,279-yard, par-72 University of Georgia Golf Course layout in the opening round to provide the spark for a 12-under 276 team total for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide cooled off in the afternoon with a 2-under 286 for a 14-under 562 total that gave them a 12-shot advantage going into Saturday’s final round.
And two other teams in Golfstat’s top five are chasing.
No. 3 Arkansas, which has been so strong right from the start of the season late last summer, opened with a 2-over 290 before posting the low round of the afternoon, a 4-under 284. The Razorbacks are the only other team under par at 2-under 574, but they find themselves trailing Alabama by 12 shots.
Reigning ACC champion Duke, ranked fifth, is six shots behind Arkansas in third place at 4-over 580 after opening with a 4-over 292 and matching par in the afternoon with a 288.
Host Georgia, still mysteriously underrated at No. 44, is in fourth place at 9-over 585 after rounds of 290 and 295, and No. 42 Baylor is another three shots behind the Bulldogs in fifth place in the strong 12-team field at 12-over 588 after adding a 299 to its opening round of 1-over 289.
Knight added a 1-under 71 to her opening-round 65 for an 8-under 136 that gave her a three-shot lead in the individual chase over a talented trio headed by Duke’s Leona Maguire, a senior from Ireland who is the No. 2 player in the Women’s WAGR.
The problem for the rest of the teams is that Alabama has three players in the top 12 in the Women’s WAGR.
Lauren Stephenson, a junior from Lexington, S.C. and the No. 7 player in the Women’s WAGR, backed up Knight as Stephenson is tied for fifth at 4-under 140. Stephenson had the best score of the afternoon for the Tide, a 3-under 69, after opening with a 1-under 71.
Kristen Gillman, a sophomore from Austin, Texas and the No. 12 player in the Women’s WAGR, is alone in seventh place at 3-under 141 after steady rounds of 70 and 71. Steady must be her middle name because Gillman, who won the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur as a 16-year-old, seems to be immune to the occasional bad round that nearly every player experiences, even the really good ones.
Angelica Moresco, a freshman from Italy who has become a key depth piece for Alabama, opened with a 2-under 70 before adding a 75 and is in the group tied for 13th at 1-over 145.
Rounding out the starting lineup for Alabama was its veteran senior, Lakareber Abe of Angleton, Texas, who is alone in 48th place at 155 after rounds of 76 and 79.
Nicole Morales, a senior from Salem, N.Y., is competing as an individual and put together solid rounds of 74 and 75 for a 5-over 149 total that left her in the group tied for 27th.
Duke’s Maguire, who would like nothing more than to cap her collegiate career by leading the Blue Devils to a national championship, added a 3-under 69 to her opening-round 70 for a 5-under 139 total that left her three shots behind Knight.
Georgia’s Jillian Hollis, a junior from Rocky River, Ohio, matched Maguire’s 70-69 day on Hollis’ home course to move into contention for the individual title.
Rounding out the trio tied for second at 139 was Louisville’s Lauren Hartlage, a sophomore from Elizabethtown, Ky. Hartlage trailed Knight be just a shot after carding a pretty impressive 6-under 66 in the opening round before falling back with a 1-over 73 in the afternoon.
Maguire wasn’t the only Dookie in the top five. Jaravee Boonchant, a freshman from Thailand, joined Alabama’s Stephenson in a tie for fifth at 4-uder 140. Boonchant posted a pair of 2-under 70s.