Golf

USC charges into nine-shot lead at NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championships

EAST MANATEE -- For the second straight day at the NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championships, the threat of lightning brought a premature end to a round.

Friday's lightning storm left a sense of uncertainty about which team was in control of the tournament.

On Saturday, USC set itself apart.

The Trojans shot 5 under par during the weather-shortened second round to charge into a nine-stroke lead on defending champion Duke. And Annie Park, USC's top golfer, was one of only six players to shoot even par, placing her atop the individual leaderboard at 2 under for the tournament.

"The girls, again, stayed really patient today," Trojans head coach Andrea Gaston said. "I'm really proud to see how they're keeping themselves patient and focused on what they have to do."

Play will resume at 8:25 a.m. Sunday at The Concession Golf Club. After the third round, the field will be whittled to the top 15 teams and nine individuals not on advancing teams. Another stroke-play round will follow Monday, after which an individual champion will be crowned and the eight-team field for Tuesday's match-play quarterfinals will be set. The match-play finals are set for Wednesday.

At 9 over par, USC entered the second round in a third-place tie with Baylor. Rounds like the ones Duke and the Cardinal pieced together Friday were hard to sustain at The Concession Golf Club, though. Any team in the top 10 realistically had a chance to make a comeback. The top-seeded Trojans, however, had the talent to best make that happen.

For stretches on Saturday, USC's Park and Gabriella Then were the top two golfers of the day, and USC finished the day -- the five Trojan golfers are scattered between the 11th and 14th holes -- with both in the top nine.

Park managed the most consistent round for the Trojans. A birdie on 11, her second hole of the round, placed her under par for the first time, and she stayed there for seven of the next eight holes, a bogey on 16 her only blemish until a double bogey immediately after the turn placed her above par for the first time.

Park erased the damage from that double bogey with a birdie on the next hole to get back even before the lightning horn sounded.

"We played pretty well today," Park said. "I think we're just being patient out there and taking everything shot by shot, which is what you have to do on a challenging course like this."

Then, who is tied with two others for ninth, had one of the best stretches of the tournament. She hit pars on the 10th and 11th to start the second round and birdied the 12th. Already under par, Then sunk only the 14th eagle of the tournament on 13 to reach 3 under for the day.

Then got through 11 holes Saturday and finished the day at even par. She is 3 over for the tournament, five strokes behind teammate Park. USC is 14 over as a team and in strong position after Stanford and the Blue Devils faded.

No. 13 Stanford teed off at 10 a.m. Saturday and immediately began to unravel.

Mariah Stackhouse, who shot 4 under par in the first round to take the individual lead into the second, shot 6 over during a birdie-free second round and slid into fourth place. The Cardinal shot 35-over as a team, dropping into 10th place at 40 over.

Duke's tumble was never as extreme. The No. 4 Blue Devils, who had one player finish 18 and four others as far back as the 15th, couldn't match the 5 over they shot as a team Friday, but with a plus-18 total score at the time of Saturday's delay, Duke kept within reach of USC.

"We're playing a very hard golf course," Blue Devils head coach Dan Brooks said. "They play opens so that the best players are right around even par and the best players in this tournament are right around even par. The difference between this and the U.S. Open is that the players in this tournament are college players, so you end up with a big gap between the ones that are able to get it around the par and the others."

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