After falling down to 10 strokes behind the leaders during day one of the Dale McNamara Fall Preview, the USC women’s golf team made up over half of that deficit in Tuesday’s second round with an impressive all-around showing.
The Women of Troy began their morning at Tulsa Country Club in a fairly distant eighth place, but benefited from strong individual performances and poor play by day one leader Oklahoma State to move into a fourth place tie by day’s end.
Sophomore Annie Park, the defending NCAA individual champion, returned to form in round two with a team-leading 2-under 68. After Monday’s error-filled 5-over performance, Park remains five strokes behind the two-day leaders.
One of those leaders is USC sophomore Kyung Kim, who stayed consistent with her second consecutive 1-under 69. Kim is tied atop the individual leaderboard after two rounds with Duke’s Laetitia Beck, Arizona State’s Noemi Jimenez and Tulane’s Emily Penttila.
It should not come as a surprise that Kim has started the fall season with two sub-70 rounds. The Arizona native racked up a team-high six rounds in the 60s during the Women of Troy’s national title run last spring. That same consistency could propel Kim and her team to a return trip to Tulsa, Okla. for the 2014 NCAA finals.
Though Kim may have had eight sub-70 rounds in her young career, the USC career record in that category belongs to her teammate, senior Sophia Popov. Unfortunately, Popov continued to struggle in her first event of the fall season, posting a 4-over 74 on Tuesday.
While Popov may be a daunting nine strokes off the lead, it is doubtful that this will be a precursor of a letdown year for one of the best golfers in USC history. In three events last fall, Popov never finished higher than fifth and fell outside the top 10 twice.
She then went on to a prolific spring season, winning once and finishing second twice, while setting several USC records along the way.
Freshman Gabriella Then continued to impress in her first collegiate event, posting a 3-over 73 to complement her 1-over performance in round one. Then is six strokes off the lead with Wednesday’s final round still to come.
Though the team’s improvement in round two is heartening, the Women of Troy still have a lot of work to do in Wednesday’s final round to come away with a victory. Each of the top four teams in the NCAA rankings remain in contention, including No. 3 Duke, the two-day leader. No. 4 Oklahoma is in second place, while round-one leader No. 16 Oklahoma State fell to third. USC, locked in a fourth place tie with No. 2 Alabama, might be just three strokes behind the Blue Devils, but competition will be fierce on the tournament’s last day.
If the Women of Troy’s 21-stroke victory over Duke in last season’s NCAA finals is any indication, they certainly have a real chance to capture a comeback victory. Also compelling will be the individual race, which will feature Kim and Park competing for their second and fifth career wins, respectively.
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