Women of Troy begin spring on a high note

The USC women’s golf team, three months separated from its last tournament play, started the spring season on a high note, riding a strong finish from sophomore Sophia Popov to finish second at the 2012 Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge Wednesday.

The tournament, held at the Palos Verdes Golf Course in Chula Vista, Calif., featured another triumph by rival UCLA, which captured its fourth victory this season with a final score of 18-over-par 870.

The Women of Troy, the two-time defending champions of the event, finished at 30-over-par 882. Pepperdine finished third at 35-over-par 887, and Arizona State rounded out the top four at 39-over-par 891.

The solid performance was especially critical for Popov, the 2011 Freshman of the Year whose wrist injury allowed her to complete only one tournament in the fall. Popov finished second at 1-over-par 214, including an impressive final round, in which she hit seven birdies and a 4-under-par 67.

Freshman Doris Chen notched her best ranking this season, finishing 10th at 8-over-par 221 to overcome a particularly rough final round. Senior Inah Park recorded her third top-20 finish, coming in tied for 16th at 9-over-par 222. All-American senior Lisa McCloskey finished tied for 23rd at 12-over-par 225 after remaining in top-10 contention the first two days. Sophomore Rachel Morris finished tied for 46th at 18-over-par 231.

The first two days marked a strong group effort for the Women of Troy, who entered the final day of play at second place. Chen turned in the best performance of 1-over-par 72 in the first round before notching three birdies to finish even 71 in the second round.

McCloskey rebounded from a 5-over-par 76 in the first round to shoot a 1-over-par 72 Tuesday, while Popov followed up a 2-over-par 73 first round with 1-over on each set of nine holes to finish the second round at 2-over-par 73. Park played to a 4-over-par 75 through both rounds, while Morris recorded scores of 5-over-par 76 during the first two days of play.

Wet, gloomy conditions on the final day created considerable struggle, but the Women of Troy maintained their second-place standing, finishing the day at 294. Chen and Morris struggled to rounds of 7-over-par 78 and 8-over-par 79, respectively, while McCloskey ended at 6-over-par 77. Park saw a three-stroke increase from her previous rounds, making two birdies and three bogeys to finish 1-over-par 72. The rain didn’t deter Popov.  She finished 12 strokes behind Duke’s Lindy Duncan, who won the tournament with a final score of 3-under-par 210.

“It was definitely a great start to the season,” Popov said. “I’m happy I could go out there with some confident ball striking and see it pay off.” The Trojans will have two weeks before participating in the All-State Sugar Bowl, held at the English Turn Country Club in New Orleans Feb. 26-28, followed by the SDSU/Battle at Rancho Bernardo March 18-20.