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Semifinal matches set at U.S. Women's Amateur

By Brendan Mohler

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- After a morning of thunderstorms and an afternoon of birdies, the semifinalists are set at the U.S. Women’s Amateur at The Country Club. Twenty-year-old Nicole Zhang, who took down top-seeded Hyo-Joo Kim yesterday, harnessed the momentum and used four back-nine birdies, including two on the 16th and 17th holes, to defeat Su-Hyun Oh of Australia 2-and-1.

“I just pushed myself as far as I go, tried to focus so hard,” said Zhang. “It was a long day after the rain delays this morning, but I stuck to my normal game plan and stayed focused.”

In the first semifinal match tomorrow morning, Zhang will face Jaye Marie Green, 18, of Boca Raton, Fla., who defeated Mexico’s Marijosse Navarro also with birdies on 16 and 17. Green’s drive on 17 came to rest in a large divot, yet she was able to hack it out to about ten feet, and eventually drained the putt to close out the match.

“I felt I was putting well all day, they just weren’t going in until the last few holes,” said a relieved and excited Green after the victory. Green said she has become friends with Zhang this week, but once tomorrow’s match starts, it’s all business. “I usually don’t talk to my opponents. Not because I’m mean, just because it’s hard to be friendly with someone you’re trying to beat.”

Related: Zhang upsets top-seeded Kim

In tomorrow’s other semifinal match, 15-year-old and world’s top-ranked amateur, Lydia Ko, will face Ariya Jutanugarn, the 2011 Girls’ Junior champion who also defended her Junior PGA Championship title last week. Ko defeated Paula Reto of South Africa 3-and-1 without playing her best golf.

“I didn’t have my A game today. I wanted more birdie opportunities,” said Lydia, who still finished 16 holes at one-under par. “My long game was strong, but I’ll need to putt better tomorrow to beat Ariya.”

All of today’s matches were fairly close, with the exception of Ariya Jutanugarn’s, who won 5-and-4 against UCLA’s Erynne Lee. “I didn’t play my best,” said Ariya, despite the lobsided win. “She [Erynne] played great in every match until today. I was lucky.” Ariya’s older sister, Moriya, has caddied for her this week since losing her first round match to Amy Anderson.

Although not all the semifinalists felt they played as well as they could have today, par was rarely good enough to win a hole and several holes were halved with birdies. The course was again softened by morning rain allowing the players to attack the pins, which have been getting tougher as the matches continue. If rain continues like the forecast predicts, it will take numerous birdies to advance to Sunday’s 36-hole final.

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