The Loop

UCLA wins 3rd NCAA women's golf title, LSU's Austin Ernst medalist

BRYAN, Texas (AP)  -- UCLA fought off a last-round surge by defending champion Purdue to win the NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship by four strokes Saturday and LSU freshman Austin Ernst had a hole-in-one and shot a 6-under 66 to take the individual title by three strokes.

UCLA led by seven strokes after the third round, but trailed early in the fourth before regaining the lead on the back nine at the Traditions Club. The Bruins finished at 21-over 1,173 for their third national championship. They also won in 1991 and 2004.

"It was pretty intense out there," UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth said. "We were not playing very well and it got too close for comfort for a while and we started to come back a little bit and make some birdies."

UCLA's Stephanie Kono birdied four holes on the back nine after failing to make a birdie on the front nine and carding a triple bogey on the eighth hole.

Forsyth also coached the 2004 champions.

"The first time is amazing and after the first time you wonder if you can ever do it again, if you can ever match that team," she said. "This time it's different but it's completely just as awesome as the first time."

Purdue's Thea Hoffmeister was disqualified after signing for a score lower than she shot. So instead of counting her 75, the Boilermakers had to use Maude-Aimee LeBlanc's 77. But it didn't change the outcome of the tournament as Purdue finished at 25 over.

Hoffmeister was visibly upset and crying long after her mistake had been discovered. Purdue coach Devon Brouse said it was a tough way for his team to end the tournament.

"We shouldn't have to teach that lesson many more times, because if you do that at the NCAA championship the last round, it obviously has consequences," he said.

Brouse knows the mistake probably didn't change the outcome of the tournament, but said it was difficult for his team to handle.

"When those last couple of groups came up here and you look over at UCLA's team and they (have) arms around each other and they know they're a couple of shots ahead, then our girls have their chins down with those last couple of girls putting for those birdies it's a different deal," Brouse said.

LSU was third at 29 over. The Tigers' Ernst became the first freshman to win since Southern California's Jennifer Rosales in 1998. Ernst finished at 7-under 281 to outlast Kelli Shean of Arkansas, who shot a 68 on for a 4-under 284 total.

Ernst aced the second hole and had six birdies.

"Coming down the stretch my nerves were really good," said Ernst, who had three birdies on the back nine. "I handled that real well. I hit a lot of good shots."

She also shot a 66 in the second round, but needed a big finish on Saturday after shooting a 5-over 77 in the third round to enter the final round tied for third place.

She followed her hole-in-one with a 60-foot birdie putt on the 391-yard third hole.

"The ace and the bomb on the next hole, it was kind of like: 'OK this could be my day,'" she said. "I just wanted to keep it going. I didn't want to get ahead of myself."

Purdue's Laura Gonzalez (71) was third at 2 under, and UCLA's Tiffany Lua (75) and Georgia's Marta Silva Zamora (73) were another stroke back.

Lua, who blew a three-stroke lead in the individual race, and the rest of the Bruins danced and cheered as the last hole was completed and they knew they had won.

"It means a lot to me," she said. "At the beginning of the year we set our goals and obviously we wanted to be national champion. Thinking about all those extra workouts, those extra practices that you were just dreading to get through but you did as a team, you look back and think it was all worth it."

Top-ranked USC shot a 38-over 1190 to tie with Arkansas for fifth place and team Texas A&M was another stroke behind in sixth place.