May 19, 2010

By Neil Amato, Special to

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Women's golf fans got a preview of the Jennifer vs. Jennifer Show last summer.

Now, with an NCAA individual crown at stake, the main characters are back for an encore.

Arizona State's Jennifer Johnson was fresh out of high school when she made it to the finals of the U.S. Women's Amateur. In that match-play final, she lost 3 and 1 to Southern California standout Jennifer Song.

Johnson and Song occupied the top two spots on the leaderboard Wednesday, having completed 36 holes at the NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championships. Johnson is one shot ahead with a 7-under-par 137 total after a 2-under 70 at the Country Club of Landfall.

Johnson seems to play the game in a straightforward way, the same way she answers questions about her round. She has been on the cusp of a breakthrough individual victory and has been critical to the Sun Devils winning three team titles and recording nine top-five finishes in the fall and spring.

She said a trip home to California for a few days, on which she tried a new shaft on her driver and a new model of Bridgestone ball, was good for her. Semester exams ended nine days ago, so the golf has been easier for her.

"It's really nice not having to worry about homework each night," she said.

Song, a sophomore, also doesn't have homework worries. She is going pro after teaming with Johnson and other top amateurs in the Curtis Cup. She shot 71 Wednesday, then lamented several missed putts that could have given her the overall lead.

"It just didn't drop in," Song said of a late stretch in which she could have put up multiple birdies. "I had the right line. I had the right speed. I was just out of luck today.

"I only made two birdies out of the nine shots I got inside like 15 feet. I think it's going to go in tomorrow and the day after. I'm just saving it."

Johnson and Song have company on the leaderboard, and several are familiar faces from their own teams or conferences. Southern Cal's Cyna Rodriguez is three shots back, along with Margarita Ramos of Arizona, Caroline Hedwall of Oklahoma State and Maude-Aimee LeBlanc of Purdue.

THIS GOLF IS MAKING ME HUNGRY: Song said her team sampled a local Italian restaurant for dinner Tuesday, not holding back when placing orders.

"We ordered like four appetizers," she said. "Everybody had a salad and entrée. We had a lot of fun. We laugh a lot when we eat dinner, and we also eat a lot.

"Our coaches like our team. They told us they used to have teams that just nibble on food. But us, we eat like a horse. It's hard to believe that we're girls."

PAC-10 DOMINANCE: The Pac-10 occupies four of the top six spots in the team standings. The league is widely regarded as the nation's best, and it has lived up to that ranking so far. Arizona State coach Melissa Luellen said the strength of other teams has made hers better.

"We respect each other, and it raises the bar," she said. "We're talented teams, but it's expected that we go out and compete.

"We see (the other teams) a lot. We think our conference is really strong. We definitely make each other better."

RAIN, RAIN: Lightning and then heavy rain Wednesday will make for a long day Thursday. Two afternoon delays, of 58 and 50 minutes, put the teams with afternoon tee times behind. Then the sky opened up about 7:30 p.m., halting play for the rest of the day.

The 27 golfers who failed to finish the second round will return at 7:30 a.m. Thursday. The third round will begin about 10 a.m., about two hours behind schedule.