Shorthanded Trojans win Pac-10 title
Highly ranked McCloskey missed final round due to rib injury
Freshman Sophia Popov fired her third consecutive sub-par round to lead short-handed No. 1 USC to the Pac-10 Women's Golf Championship while also claiming the individual title in a one-hole playoff Tuesday at the Karsten G.C. in Tempe, Ariz.
The Trojans lost highly ranked junior Lisa McCloskey for the final day due to a rib injury, forcing the squad to play without the luxury of dropping its low score for the round.
Despite the handicap, USC led for almost the entire final round en route to a five-stroke win for the program's fourth conference crown. Troy, which began the day with a seven-stroke cushion, finished the 54-hole event at even 864 (282-291-291), five better than second-place Arizona (869) and nine better than third-place UCLA (873). California was fourth (880) while Stanford, in second at the start of the day, fell to fifth (884). Arizona State was sixth (891) and was followed by Oregon (892), Washington (914), Oregon State (928) and Washington State (942).
Popov joined senior Lizette Salas, sophomore Cyna Rodriguez and fellow freshman Rachel Morris in the victorious effort.
"It was awesome. It was a thrill to pull out the victory with four players," USC 15th-year head coach Andrea Gaston said. "Lisa was hurting and we didn't think it wasn't worth the chance if her injury wasn't better. She was in pretty good pain.
"The team had to play for her and for each other and they played great. They did a great job. Each player went through a little bit of struggle but they all fought back. They played clutch.
"Sophia came back from a tough start and really helped us. I told her not to think about her swing and just start going after it. I'm happy for her."
Popov was USC's final player on the course. With Troy's team title all but officially secured, she held a late one-stroke lead before a bogey on the par-5 17th hole dropped her into a playoff with UCLA's Tiffany Lua. The Trojan freshman, however, opened the playoff with a par on the 18th hole (two-putting from about 20 feet) and when Lua missed her par putt (her second putt after a chip to about 30 feet from the hole), the title went to the Trojan freshman from Germany.
Popov's title was her third of the season, one off the USC school record for wins in a season (shared by Irene Cho and Mikaela Parmlid). The team championship was also the team's third of the year.
"We found out about Lisa this morning, kind of unexpectedly," Popov said. "We decided we would play like we only had four to start with and was something that motivated us for the round. Lisa knew we had her back.
"I got off to a really bad start. But after I birdied 7 and 8, I thought `Let's try to make a comeback.' After I got the birdies on 11, 12 and 13, I knew I could finish at 2 or 3-under which is something I ended up doing. It was great."
USC last won the Pac-10 title in 2008, which was the second part of a four-event winning streak that culminated in the 2008 NCAA championship. That was also the last year USC won an individual Pac-10 title (Paola Moreno). The Trojans' other team titles came in 1989 and 1986 while USC's other individual wins came in 2000 (Candie Kung) and 1994 (Jennifer Biehn). Jennifer Song tied for first in 2009, but lost in the playoff.
Popov finished at 6-under 210 (69-71-70). Her string of birdies (when she knocked in five of seven between 7 and 13) helped her secure her seventh straight top 7 finish.