Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
UA in good spot after tough day
Arkansas senior golfer Maria Fassi smiles during the practice round for the NCAA Golf Championships on Thursday, May 16, 2019, at Blessings Golf Club in Johnson.
FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas seniors Kaylee Benton and Maria Fassi made short birdie putts from about 4 feet out on 18 to propel the No. 10 Razorbacks into a tie with No. 2 Texas after a tough day for scoring at the NCAA Championships on Friday.
The Razorbacks and Longhorns completed the day at 10-over 302 each, two strokes ahead of No. 4 Arizona and No. 7 Stanford at Blessings Golf Club.
No. 3 Duke is fifth at 13 over, while No. 1 Southern California is sixth at 14 over.
The nation's top teams battled gusting winds as well as firm and fast greens. Some of them succumbed to the rugged conditions as more than half the teams were at 20 over or worse. No. 5 Kent State shot 33 over, and No. 11 Florida was 29 over, giving both of those teams an uphill battle to make the eight-team match play.
"It was a very difficult day of golf out there," Arkansas Coach Shauna Taylor said. "I've been here since the start of Blessings, and I saw some stuff I'd never seen before.
"I think we finished extremely strong, and it put us in a position [to contend]. We have such a special group. We have a great game plan for this golf course."
The Longhorns largely avoided the many pitfalls available on Blessings, with only two double bogeys and one triple.
"I'm happy with our team's start today," Texas Coach Ryan Murphy said. "We survived a little bit better than everyone else out there."
Arizona senior Bianca Pagdanganan fired a 4-under 69 -- on a day when the average score was nearly 80 -- to take a three-shot lead over Fassi and Texas teammates Emilee Hoffman and Haley Moore.
Pagdanganan had six birdies and two bogeys, including a run of five birdies in a seven-hole span in the middle of her round.
Asked how she put together the strong round, Pagdanganan said: "I have no idea. I think my putting worked with me today. I hit it where my coach wanted me to hit it, or at least what we talked about in the practice round. I gave myself good opportunities to make putts and to just shoot my score out there today."
The defending champion Wildcats had two of their four golfers under par, but had to count an 8 over and a 9 over.
"This golf course is obviously playing hard," Arizona Coach Laura Ianello said. "The scores are disturbing, disgusting, and for how good women's golf is, it's a slap in the face. So I think now that we know what this course is playing like, we can go out there and relax and accept a bogey because it's going to happen, and play for par."
The teams will play two more rounds of stroke play through Sunday before the field is cut to 15 teams. After one more round of stroke play, the final eight teams will vie for the championship through match play.
Fassi, the world's No. 2 amateur, was 3 over through four holes, but she birdied 8, 9, 16 and 18 to get in the red numbers.
"I hit a great wedge on 16 and a great wedge on 18 and was able to make two birdies on the last three," Fassi said. "I was really excited with that finish. It's nice momentum for tomorrow morning."
Fassi said the conditions were tough.
"I don't think we've had rounds as of late with the amount of wind we had today," she said. "We were looking at pin placements this morning and there were some really tough ones that we haven't seen in a while. We're ready. We've seen them all. We've played with this wind in 40-degree weather, so this wind in 80 degrees is not too bad."
Benton was 1 under before a double bogey on 13, but her birdie at 18 brought her score to 1 over, tied for fifth.
"It was really windy and the greens were firm," Benton said. "I had a really hard time getting it close to the hole, especially on the uphill shots. I was going over the green a lot. I had a tough time, but solid day all around."
Hoffman started her round on the back nine with 11 consecutive pars, bogeyed No. 3, then had consecutive birdies on Nos. 6 and 7.
"When I got into trouble today, I just kind of took my medicine and just punched it back into the fairway and tried to eliminate the big numbers because out here you can make a big number," Hoffman said. "It's pretty difficult. So I think just staying patient was the key."
Defending NCAA champion Jennifer Kupcho of Wake Forest carded a 5-over 78 to tie for 39th.
"Honestly, it's just the weather is so inconsistent," Kupcho said. "You have no idea how far your clubs are going. I think the wind is really hard to judge. I think that not only affects shots into the greens but also putts on the greens."
Kupcho had a trio of three-putts after recently going a stretch of 101 consecutive holes without a three-putt.
"I was hitting the ball so well, so if I can go out there and start making putts, you never know what can happen," she said.
USC Coach Justin Silverstein said he thinks his Trojans, who are four shots out of the lead, should be able to start scoring after one more day on the difficult course
"It was a tough day," he said. "The wind was blowing 20 to 30 pretty much our whole day. I think we had peak wind right when we made the turn, which made it difficult. We hit a couple of landmines there.
"But they hung tough. I'm proud of them. That's one more round here under our belt, which is good. I think we probably need at least one more and then can maybe start figuring this place out. We kept ourselves afloat, which is really all you can ask on a day where you're off and the conditions are as hard as they are."
Sports on 05/18/2019
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