__CHARLOTTE--__Alrighty, then. Time to get down to business at the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship.
With stroke-play qualifying in the books at Charlotte CC, and almost all of the pre-tournament favorites still in the mix (only Lindy Duncan, a 2006 semifinalist at age 15, is leaving us early, finding herself on the wrong side of the seven-over 151 cut mark) the tournament begins in earnest Wednesday morning. Over the next five days of match play, we'll slowly narrow down the field from the remaining 64 ambition souls to one triumphant--and likely worn out-- champion.
The question I've gotten most in the days leading up to the championship has been the obvious one: "So, who do you like to win?"
The more I think about it, though, the more I struggle with a definitive answer. Truly, the better question is "Who don't I like?" Since first covering the event in 2002, I can't remember a year where so many players seem to have a realistic shot at claiming the Robert Cox Cup come Sunday.
It's not so much a function of the "P" word (parity) as a matter of the "T" word (timing). With defending champion Jennifer Song, runner-up__Jennifer Johnson__, 2006 winner__Kimberly Kim__ and teen phenom Alexis Thompson all having turned pro earlier this summer, the obvious choices were all out of play.
In their place are several suitable contenders but no clear heir to the throne. So it is that I'm offering up my "Terrific 10," the group of players that, for any number of reasons, appear to me to have the best chance at coming out being the triumphant/worn out golfer come Sunday.
10. Julia Boland, 24
Why she could win: The Aussie, who played as a grad student at Texas A&M last year after winning the 2009 Women's Trans-National, is a mature golfer who can stay focused during a week that is very much a grind.
__Why she might not:__Boland hasn't play much golf of late, turning up to defend her title at the Trans two weeks ago before losing in the second round.
- Meghan Stasi, 32
____Why she could win:__She knows how to win USGA events, having taken the title at Women's Mid-Amateur in 2006 and 2007. She's also had a good summer, reaching the semifinals of the Ladies' British Amateur and winning the Florida State Amateur
__Why she might not:__The average age of the Women's Amateur champion the last 15 years has been 19.06.
- Victoria Tanco, 16
__Why she could win: A two-time AJGA player of the year, Tanco has been a consistent winner at the junior level while being talented enough to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open.
Why she might not: Despite a dominant record against her peers, the Argentinian has yet to have a breakout performance at an amateur event.
__7. Jaclyn Sweeney, 21
____Why she could win:__She's playing well, posting back-to-back 69s to grab a share of medalist honors with Rachel Rohanna and Erynne Lee while likely playing her final amateur event (she announced last week she's skipping her senior year at Arizona State to turn pro).
__Why she might not:__With LPGA Q school in the not too distant future, Sweeney might get caught up on this being her amateur swan-song.
__6. Candace Schepperle, 22
__Why she could win: Don't mess with a woman scorned; her surprise omission from this year's Curtis Cup roster may be motivation to prove to the USGA selection committee that it made a mistake ... and cause the members to consider her for the World Amateur Team Championship later this fall.
Why she might not: Same as Sweeney; the end of the amateur line for the Auburn graduate might become a distraction.
__5. Marina Alex, 20
__Why she could win: She's probably the best player no one seems to talk about. As a sophomore at Vanderbilt this last season, she posted a 71.6 average and 11 top-10 finishes in 12 starts.
Why she might not: Her match-play record isn't stellar, having lost in the first round here a year ago and only gotten as far as the third round in three U.S. Girls' Junior starts.
4. Caroline Hedwall, 21
Why she could win: The NCAA medalist and college player of the year spent the first five months of 2010 winning seemingly every college event she entered. Confidence is her 15th club.
Why she might not: Her power game is negated somewhat in match-play competition. Plus this is amazingly the first time she's played in an individual USGA championship.
__3. Jessica Korda, 17
__Why she could win: While good friends with Thompson, Korda has played in her shadow to an extent during the past few years. With her Curtis Cup partner not around, Korda might enjoy having the spotlight more to herself.
Why she might not: For as much talent as she possesses, the high school senior-to-be has potential to let a bad day on the course lead to an upset.
__2. Cydney Clanton, 21
__Why she could win: The North Carolina native was a bit of a local darling when she won the Women's North & South at Pinehurst No. 2 (and finished runner-up there in 2009). Another championship close to home, with a friendly crowd rooting her on, could help put her over the top.
Why she might not: Being a local darling also sometimes brings a little extra pressure.
__1. Lisa McCloskey, 19
__Why she could win: She's been a contender in every amateur tournament she's teed it up in this summer, finishing runner-up at the Women's Amateur Public Links and the Women's North & South. If there's somebody that's "due," it's the USC transfer.
Why she might not: She's played a lot of golf this summer, competing in the U.S. Women's Open along with her amateur starts. At some point the holes might be catching up to her.