BRADENTON, Fla. -- The UCLA Bruins have a lot of ouches to consider as they pursue their fourth title — head coach Carrie Forsyth’s broken right foot. No. 1 player Bronte Law’s cranky left hip.
However, the third-ranked Bruins’ biggest ouch would’ve been missing the cut from 24 to 15 teams following Sunday’s third round of the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship at the Concession Golf Club.
They didn’t miss it — squeaking into fourth round at No. 15 — but came close enough that Monday’s 10:50 a.m tee time seemed more miracle than de rigor.“We know we can still do it,” said Forsyth, who’s hobbling in a walking cast after suffering the foot injury in a January car accident. “We know we can and we know we’re going to have to play well, but you should have to play well. It’s the championship and we’re going to fight for it. It’s all we can do.”
Nearly every team in the field has struggled at Concession, a long, slick, pock-marked course with no room for the tiniest errors. In Friday’s first round, UCLA finished with a 31-over-par 319, tying Texas Tech for 22nd. In Saturday’s second round, the Bruins improved by only one shot, a collective 318, to remain 22nd.
“We were playing pretty well in Round 2 and we made the turn onto the front nine and we just blew up,” Forsyth said.
In Sunday’s third round, which was postponed due to darkness and completed early Monday, UCLA rallied to post a 293, shaving 15 strokes and propelling the Bruins to 15th and into the fourth round.
“This Round 3, they played really well,” Forsyth said. “It wasn’t perfect but it was a good solid round, much more indicative of the team that we were. I was real proud of them. It’s hard to come back from that mentally. It wasn’t even a physical deficiency, it’s mentally, you can really get down on this golf course.”
Big numbers sank the Bruins in the first two rounds. In Round 1, they posted 11 double bogeys, three triple bogeys and one 9 on the par-four No. 7 by Erynne Lee. In Round 2, the toll was nine double bogeys, two triples and Lee’s 13 on the par-four No. 8.
But in Round 3? Only one double bogey and one triple. Forsyth said friendlier Round 3 pin placements allowed the Bruins to play more of their precision game, which relies on good irons and choices rather distance and length.
UCLA begins Round 4 ranked second among the 24 teams in pars (161) and birdies (36). The Bruins ranked 23rd on par-five holes (plus 23), seventh on par fours (plus 52) and 15th on par threes (plus 21).
“It’s kind of surreal right now,” said Law, a sophomore and the nation’s third-ranked player. “We were in such a bad position to start with, but I think the fact that we’ve pulled this back shows just how strong of a team we are. Not just like golf-wise, but the fact we have the mental strength to come from being last after the first round to actually make the cut. I’m so proud of everyone on my team.”
Lee personified the Bruins’ persistence. Despite Saturday’s disastrous 13 on No. 8, she shot a one-under-par 35 on her back nine. In Sunday’s third round, she made par on the gremlin No. 8 and finished with an even-par 72.
“She shot four-under coming back after shooting 50,” Forsyth said of Lee’s rebound from her difficult first nine holes on Saturday. “That’s pretty awesome. I don’t know yet if she understands how difficult and awesome that is mentally to overcome that sort of challenge, but it was a total mental victory for her.”
“We’ve had some brutal holes out there by some of our players that have just been soul-destroying and they didn’t let it get to them,” Law said. “They came out and fought and I can’t ask for any more than that from myself or my teammates. Either way what happens [Monday] afternoon, to do that is an achievement in itself.”
This year’s new NCAA championship format featured 24 teams playing 54 holes of stroke play before the cut to 15 teams .
The results of Monday’s fourth round will decide the individual champion and cut to eight teams for Tuesday’s semifinal match play. The latter will produce the two teams for Wednesday’s championship round of match play.
Aside from team possibilities, Law began Monday’s fourth round in a three-way tie for 18th in individual competition, knowing anything is possible on treacherous Concession.
“For me, I just go out and play my game this afternoon and see what I can do,” Law said. “Make a few putts out there and keep the ball in the fairway and stay out of trouble. There is a low score out there, it’s just very rare.”
She does have to battle bursitis in her left hip, a condition that flared after regional play and limited her to only practice day before the championships.
"It’s just not a great situation to be in coming in to this, but everyone has their little things,” Law said. “And this for me has been my thing this week and I’m just trying to deal with it the best I can.”