AUGUSTA, Ga. — So much mystery still surrounds Saturday’s final round of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Yes, we know the 30 players who’ll be competing at Augusta National, and yes they’ve all gotten a glimpse of the famed course during a practice round on Friday. But what can we expect when they’re playing for real, with the championship hanging in the balance and broadcast live on NBC (12- 3 pm EDT)? While several of the contenders have experience competing in big events already in the nascent careers, no one has played in an atmosphere quite like the one they’ll experience on Saturday morning.
Given the unknown, it’s tricky to say there’s a favorite. Instead, it’s best to narrow it down to five players who look to have the best chance of walking off as the champion.
Jennifer Kupcho, first, five-under 139
The senior from Wake Forest takes a one-stroke lead into the final 18 holes after posting rounds of 68 and 71 at Champions Retreat on Wednesday and Thursday. As solid as her game has been so far this week, the most impressive thing about the 21-year-old from Westminster, Colo., is how she’s handled the pressure of coming into the event as the top-ranked amateur in the world, and living up to that hype. From getting to sit with Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley at the head table during Tuesday’s Chairman’s Dinner, to hitting the very first shot of the competition on Wednesday, she has looked under control. Some might be aware of how Kupcho let the NCAA individual title slip away on the 72nd hole at Rich Harvest Farms in 2017. But her ability to bounce back and claim the title in 2018 at Karsten Creek speaks to Kupcho’s resolve. She’s already locked up an LPGA Tour card after finishing second at LPGA Q Series last fall, deferring her status until after the end of the college season in May. This is her one chance to claim the ANWA, which will only motivate her even more.
Maria Fassi, second, four-under 140
The 21-year-old from Mexico is just one back of Kupcho after posting back-to-back 70s at Champions Retreat. It’s hard to describe the senior at Arkansas as anything but a winner, having claimed a school-record six individual titles during the 2017-’18 season. Fassi is another player who has handled the pressure this week with moxie; she was part of the NYC media tour last week, putting extra attention on herself. Yet she’s done nothing but thrive. Her only slip up of the week: Mistakenly packing her teammate's golf clubs as it they were her’s when she traveled to Augusta on Monday (luckily the teammate was also competing in the ANWA and brought Fassi’s club with her). It will make for a great “all’s well that ends well” story on Saturday should she take the title.
Sierra Brooks, T-3, three-under 141
The junior at Florida had played Augusta National prior to Friday’s practice round. Whether that extra bit of experience helps her on Saturday isn’t clear, but it certainly can’t hurt. Brooks entered the week with an aggressive mindset. “For me, I want to go in with one thing in mind, and that’s to do my best with the goal of winning,” she told Amateurgolf.com. “Focusing on the cut I think is just … it’s like looking back.” If she can continue playing with confidence, the two-stroke deficit she takes into the final round can be easily made up as she plays in the penultimate twosome.
Kaitlyn Papp, T-3, three-under 141
A sophomore at Texas, Papp posted the best score during Thursday’s second round, a three-under 69, to move into contention. All the players competing have impressive resumes, but Papp holds an interesting distinction as the first Longhorn to ever be both the freshman of the year in the Big 12 and the Player of the Year in the same season.
Zoe Campos, seventh, one-under 143
Five strokes off the lead, the 16-year-old from Valencia, Calif., has more ground to make up than her rivals. But Campos impressive opening round 68 suggests that she’s not overwhelmed by the moment. You could argue there’s less pressure on the high schooler than the others and so she just might be playing with more freedom come the final round. If she gets off to a hot start, playing in the fourth-to-last twosome, she could potentially put a scare in the rest of the leaders.