Women of Troy lead after first two rounds of tourney

The top-ranked USC women’s golf team charged past Baylor in the second round of the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge yesterday, seizing a commanding lead going into today’s final round of action. The defending national champions were once again led by sophomore Annie Park, who shot her second consecutive 4-under 67 to extend her lead in the individual race.

Poppin’ off · Senior Sophia Popov entered the tournament as USC’s No. 1 seed, but has fallen behind the pace set by her teammate Annie Park. - Courtesy of USC Sports Information

Poppin’ off · Senior Sophia Popov entered the tournament as USC’s No. 1 seed, but has fallen behind the pace set by her teammate Annie Park. – Courtesy of USC Sports Information

USC, which followed up a 4-over on Sunday with  a blistering 5-under performance yesterday, sits 14 strokes ahead of crosstown rival UCLA. The No. 2 Bruins turned in scores of 6-over and 7-over in the first two rounds. No. 5 Duke ended yesterday’s action three strokes behind the Bruins, while the unranked Baylor Bears, who took a surprising lead after Sunday’s first round, slipped to fourth place after a disappointing 15-over. USC, UCLA and Duke are three of the four teams that have received first-place votes in the NCAA rankings so far this season. Another Pac-12 foe, the ninth-ranked Arizona Wildcats, rounded out the two-day top five.

USC head coach Andrea Gaston was impressed by her team’s performance given difficult conditions.

“Today we just played very steady and stayed very patient, which we had to be because of the windy conditions,” Gaston told USCTrojans.com. “I told all the girls that on these greens, you have to be patient because of the speed and if you start to force things, you’re going to find yourself with long putts coming back and looking at bogeys or three putts.”

On the individual side, Park holds a commanding advantage going into today’s final 18 holes. Her scores over the past two days have tied a school record for the lowest round at Palos Verdes Golf Course, a course that has previously hosted this event along with the Pac-12 conference tournament. Park made up for three bogeys with five birdies and an eagle yesterday, her second eagle in as many days. The Levittown, N.Y. native has improved steadily since the start of the fall season, with her last result being a season-best second-place finish in the Pac-12 Preview.

It appears that Park’s only competition for the individual crown will come from her classmate Kyung Kim, whose steady scores of 3-under and 2-under have put her in sole possession of second place. Kim might hold the lead herself had she not followed up a hot start to Sunday’s first round with three bogeys over her final five holes. Her 69 today marked her sixth sub-70 round of the season, tying her with Park for the team lead. Also in the individual hunt are Oklahoma’s Alexandra Kaui and Florida’s Sarah Schober, who each sit six strokes off the pace going into Tuesday’s action.

Senior Sophia Popov, who finished the fall season with a pair of top three finishes, followed up a 3-over 74 with an even par 71 in the second round. Her two-day tally is good for a 13th-place tie on the individual leaderboard. Also qualifying for USC was junior Doris Chen, whose 7-over total puts her in 29th place. Freshman Gabriella Then, competing as an individual only, followed up a solid even-par effort on Sunday with a 4-over yesterday. Her total is good for a 17th-place tie.

Gaston was proud of her players’ individual achievements.

“I think they’ve all realized today was a really good day because of the conditions they played in,” she told USCTrojans.com. “This course can really play tough. Now we have to focus on another solid round tomorrow.”

The Women of Troy will attempt to win their fifth straight event to open the 2013-2014 campaign this morning beginning at 8 a.m., extending a school record. At the same time, Park will try to hold off her teammate Kim for the fifth win of her young career.

Action can be followed live at golfstat.com.