__WILMINGTON, N.C.—It's safe to say Purdue women's coach__Devon Brouse has heard it uttered hundreds if not thousands of times. Yes, he's well aware that no northern school has won the national title in women's golf. With 18 holes to play in 29th NCAA Championship, however, he and his Boilermakers squad have the chance to keep the statement from every being said again.
With four of its five starters shooting sub-par rounds Thursday at CC of Landfall, Purdue posted the lowest 18-hole score of the tournament. Shooting an eight-under 280—after carding a disappointing six-over 294 a day earlier—the Boilermakers vaulted past second-round leader USC to take a seven-shot advantage over the Trojans entering the final round with a six-under 858 total.
Freshman Laura Gonzalez-Escallon led the way for Purdue with a 69 while juniors Maude-Aimee LeBlanc and Numa Gulyanamitta shot 70s and freshman Thea Hoffmeister carded a 71. Even their non-counter played well as freshman Paula Reto's 73 was the drop score.
If the Boilermakers hang on to claim the NCAA title—their best previous finished was a second-place showing in 2007—they might look back on the way they played the par-5 18th to close out Round 3. Combined, the team's five counting scores shot a five under on the home hole, the only reachable par-5 on the course. In the final two groups, Gulyanmitta made an eagle after hitting her second shot to five feet while LeBlanc made birdie, extended the team's four-shot edge to the final seven-shot margin.
"It's a hole you've got to play you've got to play well on and we did that today," said Brouse.
Asked how his golfers were able to bounce back from the disappointment of their second-round performance, Brouse noted the team tried to accept that over a four-day event you're not always going to be on top of your game.
"I think the conversation [we had] was that every team here, every player here is going to have one round out of the four rounds that they've not going to be very happy with," Brouse said. "Lets say [this] was our round. Lets go to work tomorrow."
Noted LeBlanc: "To play well at the NCAA Championship is going to take a little luck, to get all the players playing well at the same time. But I think we all believe we're capable of this."
While the Boilermakers managed to make some red numbers, USC stumbled for the first time during the championship, posting a seven-over 295 to fall back to one over for the tournament. After opening with a 68, freshman Cyna Rodriguez shot a third-round 84. Senior All-American Belen Mozo walked off with a 76. Jennifer Song and Lizette Sales each shot 72s, keeping the Trojans within shooting distance of the lead
Playing with Purdue and USC in the final round Friday will be Arizona State, the Sun Devils shooting a two-over 290 and sitting 13 shots back in a tie for third with Alabama.
While the Boilermakers seem to have cornered the market on momentum, Brouse is understandably cautious about what might come in the final round.
"There are some good teams back there. Nobody is going to hand it to us. We've got to play a good round, " he said. "We came here to put ourselves in this position. it will be fun. We want to be in this position. We've got to embrace and we've got to go play better than everybody else tomorrow."
Individually, second-round leader Jennifer Johnson of Arizona State stayed atop the leader board, grinding out a solid if not spectacular two-under 70 to get to nine-under 207 for the tournament, one stroke better than Oklahoma State's Caroline Hedwall.
A freshman from LaQuinta, Calif., Johnson struggled on the greens, never seeming to be able to get any putts to fall. A birdie on the third hole was offset by a bogey at No. 8, causing her to make the turn at even par for the day. Meanwhile, Hedwall, three back of Johnson to start the day and playing off the 10th tee, made four straight birdie in the middle of her round to snatch the lead away.
With a birdie on the 15th, Johnson eventually got back to red figures, then regained the lead when she made a birdie on the 18th hole while Hedwall made a bogey on her final hole (No. 9) for a 68.
"It's nice to be in the lead, but there are still 18 holes tomorrow," said Johnson. "I just want to go out there and have fun."
Tied for third place, three strokes back of Johnson, are USC's Jennifer Song, who will be playing her final college round on Friday, and Purdue's Maude-Aimee LeBlanc.