__OWINGS MILLS, Md.--__Thanks to ideal scoring conditions at Caves Valley GC--moderate temperatures and just a breath of wind--birdies weren't an entirely extinct species for the golfers playing in the morning wave of the first round at the 28th NCAA Women's Championship. Still, by the time the first half of the field had completed 18 holes Tuesday, only one individual had a sub-par score: North Carolina's Catherine O'Donnell, who finished with a two-under 70.
Toss in her third birdies, negated by one bogey, and she claimed the clubhouse lead by two strokes over UCF's Stephanie Connelly. Two other golfers came in with 73s (New Mexico's Britney Choy and Michigan State's Lindsey Solberg) to sit three back.
(For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat.)
O'Donnell started on the back nine and proceeded to birdie the 12th and 17th holes, rolling in putts of six and 10 feet, to turn in two under. A 25-foot birdie putt then fell on the par-4 second hole to get her to three under before she dropped a shot with a three-putt bogey on the sixth.
"I felt I was rolling the ball really well today, hitting my putts well," O'Donnell said. "The greens are pretty quick, but I felt like I got a feel for them."
O'Donnell's performance also help the Tar Heels grab the low team score of the morning, coming in with a 11-over 299. Michigan State posted the next best total with a 19-over 307, followed by Duke at 20-over 208.
While the breeze might pick up in the afternoon, the teams that had the best finishes at regionals will be on the course, including favorites Arizona State and UCLA, likely meaning a few more red numbers will be posted before the day is through.
Teeing off in the first group of the day, Stephanie Connelly admitted to having a few nerves. It's not just that the UCF senior was playing in her first national championship as she closes out her college career. A Maryland native, who grew up 40 minutes away in Pasadena, Connelly had a dozen or so family and friends in the gallery that she didn't want to disappoint.
"It's a little hard to play in front of a lot of people like that," said Connelly, who bogeyed her first two holes before calming down and eventually carding an even-par 72.
"She's talked about playing at Caves Valley since I recruited her," added UCF women's coach Emilee Klein. "This is a big deal for her. She just wanted to do well for all the folks who came out."
Connelly says her swing has been a little off the past few weeks, but she was able to get up and down several times to keep the round for getting out of hand. She was actually one under coming to the 18th hole, but hit a poor third shot from the front bunker and missed a nearly 40-foot putt for par that left her with her opening-round 72.