ATHENS, Ga. -- While the third day of a 72-hole tournament is commonly considered "moving day," only the Auburn Tigers -- who drew inspiration from the brief presence of Coach Kim Evans, recovering from recent surgery to treat ovarian cancer -- succeeded in matching USC's third-round three-under 285. At 19-under 845, USC turned its 12-shot, 36-hole lead into a 17-shot cushion over Duke -- the only other team under par -- with only 18 holes remaining. Tied for third place are Purdue, UCLA and defending champion Alabama, who shot 13-over 301 Thursday.
High temperatures and low humidity nearly turned the already firm and fast UGA GC greens to hardwood tabletops, and only 15 players managed to break par. But the Trojans grinded through the front nine and shot eight under on the back to post respective scores of 69 and 70 from freshmen Kyung Kim and Annie Park, 72 from sophomore Doris Chen and 74 from junior Sophia Popov.
"I'm just honored to be playing in this championship," said Park, who leads the individual race by two shots over Alabama's Stephanie Meadow (one-over 73 Thursday) and Mississippi State's Ally McDonald after recording four birdies in her last six holes. "It takes the pressure off knowing how good my teammates are."
The lowest round of the day was a four-under 68 from Auburn junior Marta Sanz, who jumped 32 places into a tie for 14th. "On the back nine every putt went in. It was one of those days," said Sanz, who, like her teammates, benefited from having Coach Evans on site. "It shows us what life is and that we're just playing a game."
McDonald's seven-under 209 total has her well within reach of Park's lead, but because her team sits in 18th place at +30, she won't play alongside the other leaders. "I think I'm in a good position to make something happen," said McDonald. "[The leaders] have no control over what I do."
USC's big lead should take some excitement out of Friday's final round, but as has happened in the past, large leads can be erased even more quickly then they are built. However, Park and Meadow are among the favorites to win national Player of the Year honors, so there's more riding on the final round than a team and individual title, as if that weren't enough.
***Auburn's Coach Evans arrived on site yesterday and left this morning via a ride to the airport from Beans Kelly, a close friend and former Georgia women's coach. The Tigers are currently T-9 after posting three-under 285 on Thursday. "The first day, [we] seemed a bit rattled," said Auburn student assistant coach Danielle Downey. "Coach Evans flying in and the team seeing her really settled [our players]."
***Emilie Burger, the Georgia senior who qualified for the event as an individual, shot 75 Wednesday and is T-72 at +11. "It's not the way I expected to play," said Burger. "But to be able to finish my career here tomorrow is a blessing." Burger takes lessons at Atlanta Athletic Club from Chan Reeves, the nephew of former NFL player and coach, Dan Reeves.
***Amidst the entourage following Burger on Thursday was former UGA golfer Terri Moody. Moody was the first woman to ever receive a full athletic scholarship to UGA, and as a senior, won the national championship here at UGA GC in a three-hole playoff. With Moody and Kelly in her gallery, Burger had two of the biggest legends in Bulldog women's golf watching her play.