First day puts USC near top

Those worried that the No. 2 USC women’s golf team would be undone by the youth on its roster might have been a bit surprised at Monday’s results.

Firing away · Freshman Sophia Popov led the Women of Troy Monday, posting a 4-under-par 68 as USC finished in second place. - Photo courtesy of USC Sports Information

The Women of Troy, with two All-Americans and three members of last year’s NCAA runner-up team in their lineup, were led by a freshman at the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational in Tacoma, Wash.

Sophia Popov, a native of Germany, fired a 4-under-par 68 to tie for first place after the opening round of the tournament. Popov is tied with Emily Childs and Joanne Lee of Cal, who represent the leading team in the tournament.

USC finished at 3-under-par 285, one stroke behind Cal and eight strokes ahead of Washington.

The Women of Troy are looking to overtake Cal for their first victory of the season, especially considering USC’s history of success at the invitational, where they have earned six individual titles and seven team titles.

But as USC coach Andrea Gaston pointed out, this history must be taken lightly, as only one USC golfer — senior Lizette Salas — has played there because of the team’s absence from the tournament for the past two seasons.

Popov had a consistently good round, with five birdies offset by 12 pars and only one bogey. Her second tournament for USC has already produced the first under-par round of her collegiate career.

Following the freshman’s lead Monday was Salas, who finished in a tie for seventh at 1-under-par 71 after posting three birdies and two bogeys. The senior was 1-under-par on the front nine but could not add to her tally  on the back nine, shooting even par.

Salas is looking to bounce back to top-10 form after a 21st-place finish at the 2010 Mason Rudolph Championship in Nashville, Tenn. last week.

Junior transfer Lisa McCloskey opened with an even-par 72 to tie for 15th. McCloskey has finished fourth in her two tournaments since transferring from Pepperdine, and led the Women of Troy at the Mason Rudolph Championship with a 7-under-par 209 performance.

McCloskey had a solid round for 17 holes, but a triple bogey on the 10th hole prevented her from breaking par for the day.

Junior Inah Park, in her second tournament of the season, tied for 31st at 2-over-par 74. She opened with four bogeys and no birdies on the front nine but closed with three birdies and one bogey on the back.

“She had a bit of trouble on the front nine getting her momentum,” Gaston said.

Rounding out the roster is sophomore Cyna Rodriguez, who is tied for 31st at 4-over-par 76. Rodriguez started with three bogeys on the front and could not offset them with her back nine of two bogeys and a birdie.

For the team to leave Tacoma with an eighth win, it will have to start their rounds stronger,  Gaston said.

“[We have to] try and get into a rhythm earlier on,” Gaston said. “We started slow today.”

The three-round tournament runs through Wednesday.