Unusual weather did not lead to unusual results for the USC women’s golf team, which finished nearly two rounds of action at the rain-shortened Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate in second place.
The No. 1 Women of Troy were knotted up with No. 2 UCLA after the day’s first 18 holes, two strokes behind No. 14 Florida, the round leader. The remaining 18 holes were a slightly different story, however, as the Bruins surged ahead with a remarkable score of 11-under par. USC, with a combined score of 10-under, currently sits four strokes behind their crosstown rival going into today’s final round. Though the team certainly still has a chance to add to its school-record win streak, it will also have to fend off the always-dangerous Gators. Florida remains six strokes behind the Women of Troy while No. 6 Alabama and No. 3 Oklahoma State rounded out the top five.
USC head coach Andrea Gaston was impressed by the Bruins’ strong start in the second round, but knew her team had the talent to close the gap.
“UCLA started to separate themselves,” Gaston said. “I knew we still had plenty of golf left, and we just needed to take it one shot at a time.”
Senior Sophia Popov led the way on the individual side for the Women of Troy, firing a 5-under 67 over her first 18 holes. Though Popov followed that score in the day’s second half with a less impressive 2-over 74, her combined two-round score of 3-under was good enough for a sixth-place tie. Five strokes ahead of Popov on top of the individual leaderboard is the surprising Erynne Lee of UCLA, who shot a blistering 6-under 66 during the second round to put her at 7-under for the day. The junior came into the tournament as the Bruins’ fourth seed. Tied for the individual lead is Tonje Daffinrud of Denver.
USC also got solid performances from sophomore standouts Annie Park and Kyung Kim. Park rebounded from a 1-over 73 with a second-round 3-under, good enough to put her in a ninth-place tie just one stroke behind her teammate Popov. Kim was a model of consistency throughout the long day, stringing together scores of one-under and even par. The Chandler, Ariz. native is tied for 12th place, six strokes behind the leader.
Freshman Karen Chung was USC’s final qualifier, combining for an even-par effort over two rounds. Chung bounced back nicely from a disappointing first round 2-over to get back to even.
Gaston thought her players gave a worthy effort in the face of fatigue and difficult weather conditions.
“Our players did a great job,” Gaston said. “They made some clutch birdies down the stretch.”
If last year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl is any indication, the Women of Troy have an excellent chance at a comeback victory. The eventual national champions fell to sixth place after the event’s first round, but rallied over the final 36 holes to claim the tournament championship.
The 2013 event, also held at English Turn C.C. in New Orleans, had similar weather concerns: Participating teams played their final two rounds on the same day. USC will be seeking its ninth straight victory, and sixth consecutive win to begin the 2013-2014 campaign. The team has won 11 of its last 12 events.
Still, Gaston knows victory is anything but a sure thing for her team.
“It was a long day,” she said. “With a strong finish, we now have a chance to catch [UCLA] tomorrow.”
Final-round action begins bright and early at 8 a.m. EST this morning, and action can be followed live at golfstat.com.