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Denise Maloof | | May 22, 2014

Maloof: Leaderboard switch up

  The Blue Devils hold a six-stroke advantage over top-ranked and defending champion USC.

TULSA, Okla. -- Thursday was Duke day at the 2014 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship. It also was Southern California day, UCLA  day and Mississippi State day.

Those are the top four teams in the standings, respectively, after Thursday’s third round, with Duke, as the leader, seeking a sixth Division I crown.

“They played really well,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said of his squad. “We had wind again, but the wind was a little bit more predictable today. It was a little less gusty. They played great. We played patient. We had some shots go in the water, but they kept their composure.”

It was not Oklahoma day. The home-state team, which had done a good job mastering the first two rounds’ fiercer winds, stumbled a bit Thursday, falling to third. 

“It was tough a little bit for us [Thursday],” Oklahoma head coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell said. “We’re still right there. We’ve gotta move on, really. We’ve got 18 holes to play and anything can happen.”

Oklahoma finished at 11-over-par 291, compared to Tuesday’s 288 and Wednesday 287. Led by four seniors, their team hopes to send them out in championship fashion. 

“This is the first time, really, for us, we’ve been in contention at nationals,” Drouin-Luttrell said. “But for us it’s just another tournament and we’ll add up our scores and hopefully it’ll be right up there,”

The No. 3-ranked Blue Devils hold a six-stroke advantage over top-ranked and defending champion USC. No. 7 Oklahoma, leader through the first two rounds, is four strokes behind Southern California. Only one stroke separates each team in third through sixth place -- Oklahoma, No. 2 UCLA and No. 27 Mississippi State, No. 5 Arizona State, No. 9 Arizona and No. 26 N.C State,  respectively. Arizona State, Arizona and NC State are tied for sixth.

That contrasts to a year ago, when USC won the 2013 Division I title by a NCAA-record 21 strokes.

“They’ve got to play very patiently,” USC head coach Andrea Gaston said of her squad and Friday’s final round. “The goal, of course, is to try to keep all our players in it.”

“They’re lurking back there,” Brooks said of the Trojans. “They just took their time. They’re a really great team. Coached really well, lots of really great players. We’ve got to get after it [Friday].”

Thursday’s third round was played amid sunny warmth and benign breezes compared to the gale forces that blew during Tuesday’s first round and half of Wednesday’s second round. As expected, scores plummeted with the miles-per-hour readings. The Trojans sliced 13 strokes off Wednesday’s collective total of 291, carding a 2-under-par 278 on Thursday. UCLA dropped 10 strokes with a 3-over-par 283, compared to Wednesday’s 293.

“We’re happy to be in position, right?” UCLA head coach Carrie Forsyth said.

In second place after Tuesday first round, the Bruins had sagged on Wednesday, dropping into a three-way tie for fourth with Arizona and USC. Better Thursday weather was mirrored in better scores, although the wind, forecast at approximately 14 miles per hour in the afternoon, didn’t disappear.

“It was a lot more fun out there for us,” Forsyth said. “Still a lot of breeze. The greens are getting firmer. When you’re putting downwind, you’ve really got to take account how the ball moves.”

For USC’s Gaston, well enough was left alone after Wednesday’s frustrating inability of her team to move up the standings. She declared a “Family Night,” with each of the Bruins hanging with parents and friends instead of dining with each other. Coaches took a break, too.

“We knew they would fuel their own fire after [Wednesday],” Gaston said of Thursday’s more Trojan-like scores. “We knew they were giving their best effort.”

Junior Doris Chen did. She and Duke sophomore Celine Boutier are tied for the lead in the individual standings heading into the fourth round, both with a 3-under 207. 

“I was fortunate to have some great chances and pulled out some putts,” Chen said. “It was quite steady today.”

She carded a 2-under 68 on Thursday. Boutier finished with a 3-under 67.

“I felt like I didn’t play much better than the first two days,” said Boutier, who finished tied for fourth in last year’s NCAA individual championship. “I just didn’t make amy mistakes on the tee shots. I was pretty consistent.”

“It wouldn’t mean as much to me compared to the team,” Chen said of an individual title. “I think it would be much nicer to have a team win.”

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