May 11, 2010

By Carl Kotala
Special to NCAA.com

HOWIE-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. - Saved by the short game.

That was the story for Leslie Lee of LeTourneau University (Longview, Tex.) in Tuesday's opening round of the NCAA Division III women's golf championships.

The junior shot a 4-over 77 at the Mission Inn Resort. That put her in third place, just one shot behind co-leaders Paige Caldwell of Methodist (Fayetteville, NC) and Natalie Matuszak of St. Mary's (Notre Dame, Ind).

"I wasn't hitting very well, but my short game was really good," Lee said. "It helped a lot."

Methodist's Susan Martin, who is looking to win her third consecutive national championship, is just two shots behind the leaders and in a tie for fourth place with Jordan Galles of Wartburg College (Waverly, Iowa) and Katie Schenfeld of Gustavus Adolphus (Saint Peter, Minn.).

Lizzie Blyth of Allegheny (Meadville, Pa.), Mary Kate Boyce of St. Mary's, Lauren Campbell of Olivet College (Olivet, Mich.), Torie Ives of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (Eau Claire, Wisc.), Stephanie Mingos of Rhodes College (Memphis, TN) and Alana Swain of Methodist were all three strokes back.

The event is being co-hosted by Oglethorpe University (Atlanta, Ga.) and the Central Florida Sports Commission.

Starting on the back nine, Lee opened the tournament with bogeys on three of her first five holes before charging back with back-to-back birdies and finished the first half of her round with a 1-over 38 which tied her for first place at the turn.

Though she did have two bogeys and a double-bogey over her final nine holes, she did add a birdie and is squarely among the leaders going into the second day.

"I'm not surprised I shot 77. I think I was capable of that," Lee said. "I thought there would be some better scores."

Nevertheless, Lee finds herself in a position to stay among the contenders here for the rest of the week if she can put together another solid round Wednesday. Lee said her season started off slow but has picked up steam toward the end of the year.

"The last few tournaments, I guess I just learned how to focus more," she said.

She did well enough to make the tournament as an individual player, as did Mingos, who is in the group that finished 6-over for the day. Jessica Urban of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point -- who finished second behind Martin last year -- had a tough trip down the back nine.

After staying among the leaders for much of the day, she finished with an 8-over 81 on Tuesday, leaving her tied for 15th place and five shots off the lead. However, with three more days to play, Urban still has plenty of time.

AWARD WINNING: Kathryn Hauff of the College of St. Benedict (St. Joseph, Minn.) shot a 17-over 90 on Tuesday. But no matter what happens the rest of the tournament, she was selected an Elite 88 award winner at the tournament's opening banquet on Monday night. The Elite 88, founded by the NCAA, recognizes a player competing at a national championship event who holds the highest grade-point average.

Huff, a political science major, has a 3.95 GPA.