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Denise Maloof | | May 19, 2014

DI WGOLF Preview:
All eyes on Southern California

  Defending individual champion Annie Park leads the Trojans. The championships start on Tuesday.

TULSA, Okla. --The Women of Troy return and who — or what — can stop them?

Possibly four exceptional rounds by any competitor in this week’s NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship at the Tulsa Country Club, but, the top-ranked and defending champions from Southern California are obvious favorites.

The national tournament finals open Tuesday at Tulsa, site of the 1999 Division I women’s tournament. A total of 24 teams from three regions — East, Central and West — will play the par-70, 6,194-yard course. Tuesday’s first round begins at 1:01 p.m. ET.

As play opens, the bulls-eye rests on the Trojans, who have experienced championship ecstasy and defeat in back-to-back seasons. Two years ago, they lost the Division I team title by one stroke to Alabama. Last year, they stomped runner-up Duke by an NCAA-record 21 strokes.

This week, they seek their second consecutive NCAA title and fourth overall. Their other titles came in 2003 and '08.

And although everyone tees off with pristine zeros across the board, the pressure and spotlight is on Southern Cal. The Trojans — top-ranked since the start of the season — have made it look easy thus far. Including last week’s West Regional final, they’ve won a school-record nine tournaments, twice the victories of any team competing in Tulsa.

This week marks their 27th NCAA final appearance and 17 consecutive, the latter all under 18-year head coach Andrea Gaston. They are four-time runner-ups (1994, 2006, '10 and '12). They also have won five consecutive regional finals and an NCAA-best 10 overall.

Four of five players from last year’s championship lineup return — sophomore Annie Park, junior Doris Chen, senior Sophia Popov and sophomore Kyung Kim. Freshman Karen Chung will make her NCAA tournament final debut.

Park is the defending Division I individual champion and the nation’s No. 2-ranked player. Kim is ranked sixth. Proving you must play to win, the Trojans aren’t this year’s Pac 12 champions. They tied Arizona for second; Stanford won the conference title.

Second-ranked UCLA, the Central Region champion, earned its 13th consecutive NCAA Division I finals berth. The Bruins have won four tournaments this season. Freshman Alison Lee is Division I’s top-ranked player. Teammate Erynne Lee, a junior, is ranked ninth.

Third-ranked Duke, a five-time NCAA Division I champion, is the reigning ACC champion and has won five tournaments this season. The Blue Devils won three consecutive NCAA titles from 2005-2007. Sophomore Celine Boutier is ranked No. 7 individually.

Among other contenders, No. 5 South Carolina ended regional play No. 2 in the East. Sixth-ranked Stanford won the Pac 12 title. Seventh-ranked Arizona State has seven NCAA Division I titles, the latest in 2009. Tenth-ranked Vanderbilt, the SEC and East Region champion, has won four tournaments this season.

Washington, ranked No. 11, ended regional play No. 2 in the West, behind USC. Alabama, the 2012 champion and ranked No. 12, ended regional play No. 2 in the Central.

In individual competition, USC’s Park will defend her 2013 title. Last year, she became the seventh Division I player to win it as a freshman. Six players whose teams didn’t advance beyond regional play — two from each region — also earned individual bids to Tulsa.

They are Baylor’s Hayley Davis and East Tennessee State’s Gabriella Wahl from the East, Kent State’s Wad Phaewchimplee and UNLV’s Dana Finkelstein from the Central and Cal State Northridge's Clariss Guce and Denver’s Tonje Daffinrud from the West.

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