Women's Golf
    No. 1 USC Wins 2011 Pac-10 Championship

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    Click here to see a highlight package of the 2011 Pac-10 Championships.

    Freshman Sophia Popov fired her third consecutive sub-par round to lead short-handed No. 1 USC to the 2011 Pac-10 Women's Golf Championship while also claiming the individual title in a one-hole playoff Tuesday (April 19) at the Karsten G.C. in Tempe, Ariz.

    The Trojans lost highly ranked junior Lisa McCloskey for the final day due to a rib injury, forcing the squad to play without the luxury of dropping its low score for the round.

    Despite the handicap, USC led for almost the entire final round en route to a five-stroke win for the program's fourth conference crown. Troy, which began the day with a seven-stroke cushion, finished the 54-hole event at even 864 (282-291-291), five better than second-place Arizona (869) and nine better than third-place UCLA (873). California was fourth (880) while Stanford, in second at the start of the day, fell to fifth (884). Arizona State was sixth (891) and was followed by Oregon (892), Washington (914), Oregon State (928) and Washington State (942).

    In addition to vying for the Pac-10 title, USC was also battling UCLA for Crosstown Gauntlet points. In the season-long battle between Trojans and Bruins in all sports, points for women's golf are awarded to the highest finisher between the rivals at the Pac-10 Championships. By finishing ahead of UCLA today, USC earned five points, putting the Trojans ahead 60-27.5. That's more than enough points to win (57.5 is more than half the points available), but it is possible USC could give points back in other sports, so the Gauntlet is not yet clinched.

    Popov joined senior Lizette Salas, sophomore Cyna Rodriguez and fellow freshman Rachel Morris as they rallied to make sure the loss of McCloskey would not derail their title hopes.

    "It was awesome. It was a thrill to pull out the victory with four players," USC 15th-year head coach Andrea Gaston said. "Lisa was hurting and we didn't think it wasn't worth the chance if her injury wasn't better. She was in pretty good pain.

    "The team had to play for her and for each other and they played great. They did a great job. Each player went through a little bit of struggle but they all fought back. They played clutch.

    "Sophia came back from a tough start and really helped us. I told her not to think about her swing and just start going after it. I'm happy for her."

    Click here to see an interview with USC head coach Andrea Gaston.
    Click here to see an interview with USC freshman Sophia Popov.
    Click here to see an interview with USC senior Lizette Salas.

    Popov was USC's final player on the course. With Troy's team title all but officially secured, she held a late one-stroke lead before a bogey on the par 5 17th hole dropped her into a playoff with UCLA's Tiffany Lua. The Trojan freshman, however, opened the playoff with a par on the 18th hole (two-putting from about 20 feet) and when Lua missed her par putt (her second putt after a chip to about 30 feet from the hole), the title went to the Trojan freshman from Germany.

    Popov's title was her third of the season, one off the USC school record for wins in a season (shared by Irene Cho and Mikaela Parmlid). The team championship was also the team's third of the year.

    "We found out about Lisa this morning, kind of unexpectedly," Popov said. "We decided we would play like we only had four to start with and was something that motivated us for the round. Lisa knew we had her back.

    "I got off to a really bad start. But after I birdied 7 and 8, I thought `Let's try to make a comeback.' After I got the birdies on 11, 12 and 13, I knew I could finish at 2 or 3-under which is something I ended up doing. It was great."

    USC last won the Pac-10 title in 2008, which was the second part of a four-event winning streak that culminated in the 2008 NCAA championship. That was also the last year USC won an individual Pac-10 title (Paola Moreno). The Trojans' other team titles came in 1989 and 1986 while USC's other individual wins came in 2000 (Candie Kung) and 1994 (Jennifer Biehn). Jennifer Song tied for first in 2009, but lost in the playoff.

    Popov finished at 6-under 210 (69-71-70). Her string of birdies (when she knocked in five of seven between 7 and 13) helped her secure her seventh straight top 7 finish.

    Salas (72-73-72) and Rodriguez (69-72-76) tied for sixth at 1-over 217. For Salas, it was her sixth top 10 finish this season while it was a career-best result for Rodriguez. Salas was even on the front 9 before an eagle on the par 5 10th hole. That and a birdie on 13 helped her withstand a late double bogey and bogey on 16 and 18, respectively. Rodriguez wasn't quite as sharp as she'd been in the first two rounds, but hung in there through a rough patch after the turn and finished the final five holes at par.

    Morris tied for 29th at 12-over 228 (76-79-73), turning in her best round when the team needed it most. She started at 2-over through 9, but fought back to 1-under on the back 9. She was a combined 5-over on the back 9 the previous two rounds.

    USC will next play in the NCAA Regionals, May 5-7, where they will hopefully earn a trip to the NCAA Championships, May 17-20, at Texas A&M.