May 24, 2012
Recapping the Third Round
Every tee shot is from the same distance and every pin is in the same location for all 24 teams competing in the NCAA Women's Golf Championships, but half the field is seemingly playing a different course than the other teams each day.
The NCAA Championships are being played at the 18-hole Vanderbilt Legends Club North Course, but this week the course could just as well be considered two separate tracks; the Morning Course and Afternoon Course.
Through 54 of 72 holes at the NCAA Championships, teams teeing off in the morning have had a sizable edge - 92 strokes, in fact - over teams in the afternoon, and the root of the cause can be traced to changing course conditions.
In the mornings, the temperatures are cooler, the wind is yet to pick up and the greens are softer. As the day progresses, the temperature rises, the wind picks up and the greens dry out, becoming faster.
"I feel like the greens are a lot smoother in the morning round and it is not as windy so that is the advantage to the morning round," said Oklahoma sophomore Chirapat Jao-Javanil, who posted the low round of the day at 2-under 70 after teeing off in the morning. She is now the co-leader with Arizona State's Giulia Molinaro.
The results through the first three rounds of the tournament show a clear distinction between morning and afternoon tee times. In the first three days, the stroke total for the the 12 teams teeing off in the morning session has been lower than that of the 12 teams teeing off in the afternoon each day.
On Thursday, the field was reseeded with the top 12 teams teeing off in the afternoon. But even the teams that had separated from the other half of the field through the first two rounds could not overcome the challenging course conditions, which reached a peak on Thursday. The top 12 teams totaled 3,631 strokes in the afternoon, while the teams that began the day in the bottom 12 finished three strokes better (3,628).
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With the course challenging golfers like never before, even the coveted morning tee time was not as advantageous as it had been the previous two rounds. Scores throughout the day were noticeably higher, in part to more challenging pin locations, but even more so due to difficult course conditions. Temperatures topped 90 degrees and the wind picked up, drying out the course.
It left golfers shaking their heads and looking in disbelief when seemingly good shots into the green rolled into the rough or worse ... into the drink.
"This was the golf course we saw leading up to this week; hard golf course," Vanderbilt Head Coach Greg Allen said. "It got windy this afternoon, which made it play even tougher, and we've got a few not swinging at it well so that made it even more difficult to score."
Allen saw his Commodores lose a battle with the course on Thursday afternoon as the team shot a 23-over par 311 and dropped into a tie for 16th. Vanderbilt now has two rather forgettable rounds surrounding a 4-under par 284 in the second round on Wednesday. Take a guess as to which day the Commodores tee'd off in the morning.
"The good news is that we have a morning tee time tomorrow and we played well yesterday with a morning tee time, so hopefully we can do the same thing," said Allen, looking for a positive after seeing Legends Club throw haymakers at his squad throughout the day.
Vanderbilt's best round of the day was turned in by senior Marina Alex. After carding a 4-under par 68 in the second round, the 2012 SEC Player of the Year fought her way to a 4-over par 76 on Thursday.
"The course is just playing tougher," Alex said. "(The) wind picked up. I don't know if the greens are any faster, but pin placements are challenging. The wind is a big factor. Once it gets windy, the course really starts playing a lot harder."
Vanderbilt was far from the only team to fight a losing battle with the North Course in the third round. Alabama, who has led the tournament throughout, shot an 18-over par 306 and saw its 11 stroke lead entering the day dwindle to two ahead of Southern California. "The wind was a major factor and that dried out the greens a little more," Alabama Head Coach Mic Potter said.
The back nine was where the course preyed on the players the most. It has been more difficult than the front all three days, but Thursday was unlike anything before. The Crimson Tide finished the back nine at 11-over par. Meanwhile Vanderbilt played the back nine at 17-over par. The usually consistent, Lauren Stratton, found herself 5-over par through two holes after starting the day on the back nine.
A lot of the trouble came on holes 15 and 16. The par-4, 403-yard No. 15 played plus-0.63 relative to par and the par-3, 154-yard No. 16 played plus-0.64 relative to par.
"We played 16 like we've never seen the hole before," said Allen. "We hit three balls in the water."
Holes 15 and 16 proved to be the most difficult, but overall 11 of the 18 holes played more difficult Thursday than in any of the other two rounds. In total it all added up to the field counting 7,259 shots on Thursday, 125 more than any of the previous two rounds, topping the 7,134 strokes on Tuesday. "The wind picked up and made it just brutal to play," Allen said.
Alabama still holds a slight lead heading into the final round, but with the top 12 teams again teeing off in the afternoon, and a golf course playing more difficult than it has all week, there is a lot of golf still to be played.
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