Women's Golf
    No. 1 USC Extends Lead At NCAAs To 17 Strokes After Third Round

    Freshman Kyung Kim tees off on the first hole. She finished 3-under for the second day in a row and is now fourth overall.

    May 23, 2013

    NCAA Third Round Results

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    No. 1 USC followed a record-setting second round with a tough-as-nails third round as the Trojans, led by individual leader Annie Park, grinded through tough pin locations, swirling winds and a slow start to extend their lead to 17 strokes with 18 holes to go at the 2013 NCAA Women's Golf Championships at the University of Georgia G.C. in Athens, Ga., on Thursday (May 23).

    The Trojans, playing in the final threesome of the afternoon wave, combined for a 3-under 285 and now stand at 19-under 845 (284-276-285), 17 better than second-place Duke (862). The Blue Devils turned in the third best round of the day (behind only USC and Auburn), but couldn't make up any ground. Alabama, 12 back in second place after the second round, dropped to a tie for third at 9-over 873 with Purdue and UCLA.

    Purdue will join USC and Duke in the final pairing tomorrow with the first threesome teeing off at 12:59 p.m. ET.

    USC, with a school-record six wins this season, is after its third team title in program history after victories in 2003 and 2008. The Trojans entered the NCAAs this year having won five of their past six events and are a round away from securing lucky No. 7.

    The Trojans began the day with a 12-stroke lead over No. 2 Alabama and 15 better than No. 3 Duke and all three schools started slowly. Near the halfway point of the day, the Trojans were a combined 5-over and though the Crimson Tide had fallen off the pace, Duke had climbed into second, 10 back.

    "There were some keys things that happened on the back side. We were 5-over for quite a while and came back all the way to 3-under," USC head coach Andrea Gaston said. "On the front 9, which was our back 9 yesterday, we didn't do as well. We had to do some battling and with the wind, it made it more difficult. And the pin placements were tough.

    "We turned at 5-over and certainly that had me concerned because we seemed to have a couple players battling. But the team kept at it and got some momentum with some birdies in the front of the lineup, Sophia made some good saves and Annie finished really strong. This is a testament to how hard our girls have worked, not to give up and that a birdie can really turn things around."

    Park will begin the final round with a two-stroke lead after finishing the day at 9-under 207 (70-67-70), two better than Alabama's Stephanie Meadow and Mississippi State's Ally McDonald.

    Park, coming off firsts at the 2013 Pac-12 Championship and at the 2013 NCAA West Regional (where she tied for first), opened with a bogey when her par putt on 1 lipped out but she got back to par on 6. She went to 2-over with bogeys on 12 and 13 before finishing strong with birdies on 13, 14, 17 and 18.

    Her 9-under after 54 holes tied the NCAA record, matching three other players including USC's first NCAA individual title winner, Jennifer Rosales in 1998. Park is now close to becoming the Trojans' fourth.

    "I was struggling on the front, but glad I got it back together on the back 9," Park said. "It's awesome how the team is playing. Hopefully we do the same tomorrow and play each shot one at a time."

    USC third-round turn-around on the back 9 featured help from the entire team. Sophomore Doris Chen, 3-over through 9, birdied 10, saved par on 11 with a clutch putt and finished with birdies on 15 and 16 to get back to even. She is now tied for 45th at 6-over 222 (72-78-72).

    "Yesterday I really messed up my round and today I was coming in determined to improve. I hit very well today," Chen said. "I'm still trying to get used to a new putter and having some distance control issues, which cost me a bit. On the back 9 I was trying to hit it as close to the pin as I could and give myself a good chance to get some birdies and I did."

    Junior Sophia Popov was 3-over through nine but was 1-under on the back and could easily have been 4-under on the back but missed three consecutive birdie putts by inches on her final three holes. She is tied for 11th at 1-under 215 (71-70-74).

    Freshman Kyung Kim was the lone Trojan under par on the front 9 at 1-under, but was at par after 14 before finishing with birdies on 14, 15 and 17. She is now fourth overall at 4-under 212 (74-69-69) after her second straight 3-under.

    "Today, I was hitting the ball really well, but because of the wind my distance control was a little off and that cost me a couple bogeys. But everything came together towards the end," Kim said. "And the team is doing great. Everyone on the team grinded out and played strong."

    Junior Rachel Morris tied for 25th at 3-over 219 (71-70-78) after her first tough round of the event.

    USC could've dipped worse midway through the round when both Popov and Park, going for the green on their seconds shots on the par 5 12th hole, hit into the hazard. Popov landed in the water while Park's ball nestled between tall leaves and stone at the bottom of a small hill below the green.

    Both were forced to take a drop and both hit great fourth shots to give themselves chances for par. Popov converted from about 12 feet while Park lipped out from about seven. But Park quickly made up for it with birdies on 13 and 14.

    "I wanted a birdie right away after the 12th hole, so that was nice," Park said.

    Popov saved par on 13 as well after her par 3 tee shot landed on a hill and her second shot left her some work.

    "I saved a couple pars on 12 and 13, which was good," Popov said. "I missed some putts, too, on the back 9 and there was definitely more out there than a 2-over, but the team is playing well overall.

    "I know what (losing by one stroke at NCAAs) feels like (last year) and it doesn't feel good. We are fighting for every shot no matter what the score is and having fun. We need to try to stay aggressive and not play scared."