UCLA hangs on to lead with Lua leading charge
__BRYAN, TEXAS—__No rain fell, and no lightning was spotted, but a nearly two-hour weather delay due to the threat of storms in the area changed the complexion of the NCAA Women's Championship, preventing the third round from being completed Friday and shifting the momentum in both the team and individual races.
When officials stopped play at 3:30 p.m. local time, UCLA was five over for the tournament, eight strokes better than second-place Purdue. Meanwhile, LSU's__Austin Ernst__, fresh off a second-round 66, was at one under for the day through five holes and seven under overall, five strokes ahead of her nearest competitors, including UCLA's__Tiffany Lua__.
Upon their return to the course at 5:20 p.m., however, the script flipped. UCLA made a handful of "silly mistakes," according to coach __ Carrie Forsyth__, and watched the Boilermakers actually take the lead momentarily as the teams played the back nine. And Ernst, a freshman from Seneca, S.C., suddenly started to sputter, making a triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 ninth hole, a triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 12th and a bogey on the 13th. In the meantime, Lua, playing in the same group as Ernst, made birdies on the sixth, seventh and 12th holes and a hole-in-one with a 7-iron on the 11th, to pass Ernst on the leader board and stop the Bruins' team skid. When darkness fell and Lua and Ernst had completed 14 holes, the UCLA sophomore was three under on the day and five under overall, three strokes better than Ernst and Georgia's__Marta Silva Zamora__ (who had completed her third round several hours earlier.) Moreover, the Bruins had jumped back into the lead, sitting at 13-over as a team, six strokes better than Purdue and 13 ahead of LSU and Virginia.
"The girls are really fighting hard. It was just really challenging conditions," said Forsyth. "I'm proud of them. We felt like we turned it around a little."
"[Tiffany]'s able to make things happen," Forsyth said. "Obviously she did today. SHe made the hole-in-one and a day like today it helped us as a group. It was a momentum turn. As much as the weather maybe stopped our early momentum, we can back out and started playing poorly and then we had that happen. it was awesome."
Lua said that the weather delay didn't necessarily change her mindset. "I had just hit a good approach shot into the sixth hole and had a five footer for birdie," she said. "I was just determined to make that putt.
When Ernst made the triple on the ninth hole, Lua made bogey but still managed to cut the lead to two strokes. Lua's ace on the 11th then tied her with Ernst for the lead and when Ernst made a triple on the 12th hole and Lua made birdie, the Bruin suddenly was in the lead by four strokes.
With the resumption of the third round set for 7:30 a.m. tomorrow and the fourth round beginning at 8:30 a.m., Saturday will be a long grind for the team and individual that walks off with the championship. Forsythbelieves her group is ready for three challenge.
"Our mantra has been calm confidence. if we play with calm confidence, I think we'll play just fine."
Texas A&M's quest to win an NCAA title on its own course hit a bump in the road at The Traditions Club Friday, with the Aggies shooting a 14-over-par 302 to fall 14 strokes off the pace of UCLA. "I think we were a little tighter today than the first two rounds, and it showed," said A&M coach Trelle McCombs after the round.
The good news was the team finished its third round so the players wouldn't have to report to the course at dawn to play a handful of holes, instead getting to rest up for the final 18.
It might have been confused with a good poker hand, but there were three aces at The Traditions Club Friday. Coastal Carolina's Courtney Boe made one in the morning on the par-3 11th, using a 7-iron, en route to a three-under 69. Nearly six hours later, Lua made her hole-in-one on the same hole (also with a 7-iron), and less than an hour after that Virginia's Brittany Altomare holed her tee shot on the par-3 16th roughly an hour later, using an 8-iron.
For Altomare, it was her third career ace, and the second in competition.
"[In practice] we often joke 'hole-in-one, hole-in-one' when [a shot is looking good]," Altomare said. "I heard that in the back of my mind as the ball was going to toward the green."
Lua ace was the second she had ever made, the first one coming when she was just 10 years old.