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The Loop

Familiar foes atop leader board after 36 holes at NCAAs

__WILMINGTON, N.C.—__Are we looking at a rematch of the 2009 U.S. Women's Amateur showdown between USC's Jennifer Song and Arizona State's Jennifer Johnson? Taking a glance at the leader board Wednesday evening at the 29th NCAA Women's Championship, you couldn't help but think as much.

With both golfers having finished 36 holes on the Pete Dye Course at CC of Landfall, it's the runner-up from last summer's showdown at Old Warson CC who currently has the edge. Johnson's two-under 70 in the second round, compared to Song's second-round 71, put the Sun Devil freshman out front by one stroke with a seven-under 137.

It might have been a two-shot lead had Johnson not caught an unfortunate break. With one hole left to play in her round, thunder rumbled from the skies above, causing the first of two early afternoon weather delays that ultimately kept the entire second round from being completed before nightfall. Almost an hour later, Johnson returned to her final hole, the par-4 ninth, only to hit her tee shot into the right rough and have her second shot clip a trip eventually leading to a closing bogey.

Despite the blemish, Johnson managed to shake off the mishap. "I played pretty smart," she said. "I hit a lot of greens and when I had the birdie chances, the close ones, I made them."

Song, who was tied for the lead with Johnson and Purdue's Maude-Aimee LeBlanc after Round 1, played solidly from tee-to-green but struggled getting any putts to drop. While having nine birdie chances inside 15 feet, the Trojan sophomore made just two (adding a third birdie from outside 15 feet) while also taking a double bogey on the par-3 16th hole when she pushed her tee ball into the water.

Song, too, choose to take the glass-half-full look at the day. "I was really happy with the way I handled things out there," she said. "It's easy to get frustrated when they're not falling and give up. But I was really patient out there."

LeBlanc followed up her opening-round 67 with a 73 to leave her tied for third at four under along with USC's Cyna Rodriguez (72), Oklahoma State's Caroline Hedwall (70) and Arizona's Margarita Ramos, who posted the low round of the day with a 69.

When heavy rain returned at 7:27 p.m., play was called for the day with six teams failing to finish their rounds, requiring them to come back early Thursday morning.

Swirling winds and muggy conditions prevented the top-seeded schools playing in the morning wave from posting many sub-par scores. First-round leader USC extended its advantage after posting an even-par 288 to sit at six-under 570, seven shots better than SEC champion Alabama (288), eight ahead of Big Ten champions Purdue (294) and nine up on top-ranked UCLA (292).

"It felt a little more difficult out there today," said USC women's coach Andrea Gaston. "We gave away some shots out there. Overall, they played solid."

"It's certainly exciting to be in this position," she continued. "That's what we're here for. We're here to try and win a championship. Pretty much both of the championships we won [in 2003 and 2008], we were leading start to finish. I think you get a little momentum going, and that's positive because you don't have to try to make up [ground]. Now you can't sit and try and protect it, either. we have to go out and make some shot. There is a lot of golf to play.

At 11 strokes back of leader USC through 36 holes, Arizona State is right where it wants to be.

OK, maybe not right where it wants to be, but the Sun Devils can lean on the fact that a year ago they were also 11 strokes off the lead at the midway point at Caves Valley and came back to win the NCAA title.

If coach Melissa Luellen has trouble sleeping this evening after her squad posted a five-over 293, it will be because of the second hole, a 131-yarder with water surrounding much of the island-style green. With the wind in their face, Carlota Ciganda, Jaclyn Sweeney and Giulia Molinaro all hit their tee shots in the water, resulting in a triple bogey, double bogey and triple bogey.

"It was kind of hard to pick a club there," Luellen said. "It was an in-between [yardage] and you're trying to hit a shot that you kept out of the wind."

Compounding the tough tee shot was a drop area that produced a difficult angle to the back pin location, forcing a conservative third shot and becoming the cause of the numbers getting so big.

"What are you going to do," Luellen said. "They make it 72 holes and everybody is going to have their bleeps. We had our bleep."