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Playoff in tough conditions adds to drama as ANWA heads to Augusta National

April 01, 2021

Maja Stark, shown competing for Oklahoma State birdied the first extra hole to earn a right to play in the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur. (Courtesy of Oklahoma State Athletics)

AUGUSTA, Ga.—Play a possibly once-in-a-lifetime competitive round at Augusta National Golf Club or go home. That was the weight of a playoff on Friday after the second round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

Eighty-one players competed in the first two rounds of the tournament at Champions Retreat Golf Club on Thursday and Friday. Only 30 would make the cut and reach the third and final round on Saturday at Augusta National. The other 51 would get an appetizer-sized morsel of the full experience with a practice round on Friday.

ANGC doesn’t mess around either. There’s no "X-number and ties” stuff. If you're No. 31, you're out.

So, there is playoff for however many final spots remaining. In the event’s inaugural staging, there were only two golfers forced to extra holes in sudden death. On Friday, it was like a traffic jam on Washington Road. There were five for only one precious spot.

Each woman had her own dream to fulfil, but only Maja Stark emerged. The 22-year-old from Sweden and Oklahoma State made the only birdie, a 15-footer, on the first extra playoff hole, the par-4 10th, and seized the last position for Saturday.

Stark was quite the thrill seeker. She made her only birdie of the second round on the 18th hole just prior to the playoff. And she had bogeyed the 10th in both rounds.

“I was just very excited,” Stark said of reaching the playoff. “I love when my pulse gets higher. [The 10th] is not my favorite hole. … I got some revenge.”

Stark’s birdie eliminated the four other players who finished 36 holes at seven over par—Kate Smith, Yu-Sang Hou, Amari Avery, Lauren Hartlage. Avery birdied the 18th to get into the playoff, while Smith suffered a three-putt bogey at the 17th to fall into the tie. It was Smith who led the tournament at four under par through 11 holes when first-round play was suspended by bad weather on Wednesday. But she faltered on Friday morning, shooting four over on her last six holes of the first round.

With temperatures in the 50s and the wind blowing on Thursday, the conditions were difficult—so much so that while the 30th player in 2019 shot three over, this year she scored seven over.

Two years ago, Jennifer Kupcho shot five under in the first two days at Champions Retreat, scored 67 at Augusta National and won. This year's 36-hole leaders stand at one under. They are World No. 1 and reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Rose Zhang (71-72) and Swedish 20-year-old Ingrid Lindblad (73-70). Lindblad (LSU) had a particularly notable comeback, overcoming a 41 on the front nine with a five-birdie back to shoot 31.

The best score of the two days was 69, recorded on Thursday by Northern Ireland’s Olivia Mehaffey, who is tied for third at even par with American Auston Kim, who eagled the par-5 third en route to shooting 72.