The Loop

Women's Am semifinalists making birdies

August 08, 2008

EUGENE, Ore.--Sorry if I'm getting too technical for anyone, but in my estimation if you're going to claim the 108th U.S. Women's Amateur title this weekend, you're going to have to ... well ... bring it.

That's what I'm thinking at least after watching the quarterfinal matches at Eugene CC, where just making pars weren't good enough to advance from the Elite Eight to the Final Four.

En route to their victories Friday, Azahara Munoz, Belen Mozo, Amanda Blumenherst and Erynne Lee each shot the equivalent of sub-par stroke-play scores with the usual match-play concessions. None ever trailed in their matches, with each having at least 4-up leads at some point during the day. (Things appeared to be wrapping up so quickly, Golf Channel folks were scrambling to figure out how to fill perhaps as much as 30 minutes of live airtime.)

Munoz, the 20-year-old defending NCAA champion at Arizona State, stuck a pitching wedge close enough on No. 1 to have her birdie conceded, one of five birdies on the day to beat co-medalist Stephanie Na, 7 and 6.

"I'm playing pretty good," Munoz said. "My long game is working, my short game, too. I'm confident."

Blumenherst also made five birdies, three coming on the seventh, eighth and ninth holes, to take a commanding 4-up lead in her match with 2007 Ladies' British Open Amateur champion Carlota Ciganda. Despite being out driven on most holes--which says as much about Ciganda's prowess as anything--Blumenherst capitalized on her steady iron play and her increasing hot putter to win 4 and 3.

"The putts are starting to fall in," said Blumenherst. "I kind of struggled with my putter really all last year. But I've been hitting the ball great. So I'm kind of putting both together. And it's been a lot of fun."

Mozo, an All-American at USC, only made four birdies, but she too says her "magical" putting stroke has resurfaced, helping her defeat Whitney Neuhauser, 6 and 5.

"I think all the players have the same thing. If you start putting well, the rest of the game comes along,"  Mozo said. "It's just because you have this confidence that even if you miss the green you're going to do up and down. So, I don't know, it's easier that way. Because on this course you're going to have greens and fairways all the way."

Lee, the youngest remaining player at 15, won four straight holes (Nos. 9-12) to pull away from Chelsea Stelzmiller, 4 and 3. Not bad when you consider this is only her second match-play event, having lost in the first round of the U.S. Girls' Junior two weeks ago.

"This time I had strategy," Lee said to explain her improved play in Oregon. "When I was out there at the U.S. Girls', I was playing Lindy Duncan my first match. She had strategy out there. I guess she's been a veteran out there. And to me I was a newcomer, underdog. She would have a strategy where on par 5s she would just layup to a hundred yards and from there she would just stick it, where I would just go for it every single time."

WIth that, the semifinals look to be an intriguing pair of matches. In the first you have Spaniards Mozo and Munoz, best friends since their youth, facing each other in match play for only the second time in their careers. Mozo defeated Munoz at the Spanish International Junior. Mozo admitted that "it's going to be awkward" playing Munoz, but that the two aren't going to do anything differently than they would otherwise.

"We want to win, each of us, obviously," Mozo said. "But it's justâ¿¿â¿¿we're not going to change our attitude. You just go and play our game. She plays better and wins, awesome. If I do, awesome, too."

Munoz, meanwhile, is trying to become just the second women's player to claim the NCAA title and the Women's Amateur crown in the same calendar year (Vicki Goetze achieved the double in 1992).

Conversely, Blumenherst and Lee know little about each other despite the fact each played in this summer's U.S. Women's Open. You'd have to give the edge to Blumenherst, given all the experience the Duke senior-to-be has; after all she was the runner-up in this championship last year and she is the three-time reigning NCAA player of the year. Plus she is rested, having spent played her last competitive round of golf over the July 4 weekend during the family's annual "Blummie Open" tournament in Indiana.

Oh and then there's the fact that she hasn't trailed an opponent in the last 48 holes.

There also seems to be a little deja vu working for her; Blumenherst had to defeat a teenager last year (Kimberly Kim) to get to the finals__ __.