ALBUQUERQUE--Has the run ended for Duke at the NCAA Women's Championship? It's hard to envision a scenario where the Blue Devils can claim a record fourth-straight national title Friday after ending Thursday's play at the University of New Mexico Championship Course 18 strokes off the lead of Southern California and UCLA.
En route to victory at the 2005 and 2006 championships coach Dan Brooks' squads made impressive Day 3 charges to take control of their destiny. In contrast, Duke was 11 over on the day and 34 over total with four players still needing to complete one to three holes when the third round was called for darkness. The performance dropped them from a tie for seventh at the start of the third round to eighth place.
The chances look better for Arkansas' Stacy Lewis to repeat as the individual champion, but only slightly. The 23-year-old fifth-year senior from The Woodlands, Texas, was two over on the day and three over for the tournament with two holes to play in the third round, putting her five shots back of 54-hole leader Azahara Munoz of Arizona State, who finished her round. (For full individual results, click here to link to Golfstat.)
Lewis couldn't seem to get any putts to fall as she played in the same foursome as her rival for national player-of-the-year honors, Amanda Blumenherst (The Duke junior started bogey/double bogey, after amazingly shanking her third shot on the par-5 fifth hole, but settling in at three over on the day and five over for the tournament with two holes to play). That said, Lewis did come back from six shots back with 18 holes to play to claim medalist honors at LPGA International a year ago with a final-round 66. She also shot a 66 in the last round of the 2006 championship to finish tied for ninth.
Despite playing a shotgun format for the third round, 21 players were still on the course when darkness halted play. They will come back and finish the third round at 7 a.m. Friday morning.
The third-round shotgun start was supposed to start at 12:30 p.m., but didn't begin until 1 p.m. because of the threat of bad weather. Play was then stopped at 1:15 p.m. when a thunderstorm finally came through the course, causing a one hour, five minute delay.
Friday's final round could prove emotional for Lewis as she completes her impressive college run. "She's excited to be moving on to the next part of her career," said Dale Lewis, Stacy's father, "but I think there are going to be some tears shed on that last hole."
For most of Thursday afternoon, individuals and teams seemed to be running in place as the standings didn't change much. The exception came from Southern California and UCLA. The Los Angeles schools appeared to separate themselves--both the Trojans and Bruins are at 16 over, each with a few players still to finish the third round--setting up an interesting showdown for the title. (For full team results, click here to link to Golfstat.) The two schools are the only programs not named Duke to win the NCAA title since 2001 (USC in 2003, UCLA in 2004).