AUGUSTA, Ga. – After a one-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur appears poised to construct on its momentum from the inaugural version.
In spring 2019, Jennifer Kupcho used a second-nine flourish to outduel Maria Fassi in one of the memorable showcases in ladies’s golf historical past. This 12 months’s event might be simply as thrilling, with teen phenom Rose Zhang tied for the lead and 9 gamers separated by simply three pictures.
Here are the 5 greatest questions heading into the third and closing spherical at Augusta National (Click here to observe stay stream, starting at midday ET Saturday):
Who are the primary contenders?
Zhang and Ingrid Lindblad are tied for the lead at 1 beneath, the one gamers to sit down beneath par after two days at one other difficult monitor, Champions Retreat. Both are extremely completed gamers: Zhang, 17, is a month from highschool commencement however is the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and the top-ranked participant on this planet. Lindblad, a sophomore at LSU, is not any slouch, both: Ranked No. 4 on this planet, she gained the European Team Championship for Sweden in 2019 and was a 2020 Annika Award finalist as the top participant in school golf. They have a small little bit of historical past collectively: Lindblad went 1-0-2 towards Zhang on the 2018 Junior Ryder Cup.
But in contrast to two years in the past, when Kupcho and Fassi separated themselves early, this closing spherical figures to be extra tightly packed. There are seven different gamers inside two pictures of the lead, together with Arizona State star Olivia Mehaffey, who’s coming off a tournament-best 69 at Champions Retreat; Sun Devils teammate and world No. 2 Linn Grant, who has gained three consecutive school occasions; and Auston Kim, an All-American at Vanderbilt.
Who else may make a cost?
Grant begins the ultimate spherical three pictures again and can draw loads of consideration from the frontrunners if she makes a run. She performed her manner into the ultimate group Saturday finally 12 months’s U.S. Women’s Open earlier than stumbling over the weekend.
Two pictures again, Houston’s Helen Fredgaard has her school coach, Gerrod Chadwell (Stacy Lewis’ husband), on the bag. Chadwell described Fredgarad as a ball-striking machine; throughout a current 36-hole day on the Golf Club of Houston, the longtime host of the PGA Tour occasion, she hit 35 of 36 greens. Leonie Harm, who presently performs on the Ladies European Tour, is the most effective participant to come back by way of the Houston program – however Fredgaard, Chadwell stated, is “twice as good.”
As for a longshot, be careful for South Carolina’s Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, who’s 5 pictures off the lead after a number of sloppy rounds at Champions Retreat. Asked how far again was too far again, she stated: “Five shots on this course, it’s not nothing, but anything can happen.”
How is Augusta National enjoying?
We’ll let the gamers deal with that one:
Grant: “Pretty tough.”
Maja Stark: “Pretty tough.”
Kaleigh Telfer: “Pretty tough.”
Gina Kim: “It was pretty tough.”
Yeah, you get the concept.
The gamers’ one and solely observe spherical Friday started with temperatures under 40 levels and a gentle breeze out of the north, probably the most troublesome path. That made three of the 4 par 5s play into the wind and required some holes, just like the par-4 18th, to be approached with 3-woods, hybrids and 4-irons.
Many of those severely undulating greens aren’t meant to obtain decrease shot trajectories, however gamers stated they have been hitting wherever from 5- to 7-irons into the par 3s. Those who performed right here within the inaugural version two years in the past additionally famous how agency the greens have been in comparison with 2019 and that it was troublesome to carry a number of the placing surfaces. Barring a setup change, that’ll probably proceed to be the case with the wind drying out greens that Gina Kim described as already “crispy.”
The excessive Saturday is meant to be about 10 levels hotter, within the mid-60s, and the wind can be mild and are available out of a extra favorable path. That ought to enable gamers to be extra aggressive into the par 5s, nevertheless it’ll be attention-grabbing to see how a lot threat they’re prepared to take on in the event that they weren’t capable of hit these pictures through the observe spherical – or maybe have been scared off by discovering the water on Friday.
And the inexperienced speeds? Well …
“The greens are very, very, very fast,” stated Kim, presently in a tie for third, a shot again. “I thought I was reading putts pretty well, and then they would keep on going.”
Said Grant: “I heard they were going to speed them up a little bit and try to make them a little bit firmer. That’s exciting, but scary.”
How can they study the course in at some point?
Quite merely, they will’t. Those within the discipline who play school golf are used to one-day observe rounds earlier than a event, however they’re additionally not charting programs with as a lot nuance and technique as Augusta National. They’d want 5 hours to study all the intricacies of the ninth inexperienced, not to mention your complete course.
“It’s a lot of information,” Grant stated. “It’s like a puzzle: You put your pieces together, and sometimes they fit and sometimes they don’t. Hopefully they fit.”
But Grant and the opposite contenders aren’t flying fully blind both. On Friday, every participant had an Augusta National caddie at her disposal, so she may pepper the looper with questions about wind path, begin traces, areas to overlook and green-reading. Some are utilizing them within the event spherical too; Mehaffey, as an example, has been utilizing the identical Augusta National caddie, Brian McKinley, that Kupcho had on the bag in 2019.
Those who competed two years in the past even have an thought of the place the outlet places have been lower then – and now are hoping they’re positioned there once more on Saturday.
“Otherwise we’re going to be so off,” Grant stated, laughing. “That would be so terrible.”
Still, it’s loads to absorb in a single afternoon – particularly for individuals who are seeing the course for the primary time and wish to soak within the expertise.
“I have so many words to describe how happy I am to be here,” Roussin-Bouchard stated. “Wonderful. Beautiful. So perfect. Yeah. Just amazing.” Though she was laborious at work, she nonetheless discovered herself trying round extra in between pictures. “Like, I didn’t want to leave my broken tee on the tee because it was imperfect compared to everything that’s just perfect.”
It’s value noting that of the 30 gamers competing Saturday, simply 9 made the weekend lower in 2019.
Will we see a repeat of 2019?
It’s a excessive bar to clear. Kupcho closed with a spectacular 67, however there was just one different rating within the 60s. Eight gamers general broke par within the closing spherical, which was performed in hotter temperatures and softer circumstances. The women basically performed from the member tees, about 6,350 yards.
With the 36-hole co-leaders beginning at 1 beneath par – certainly, early-week host Champions Retreat is not any cupcake, particularly in a 20-mph wind – it’s unlikely we’ll see many gamers (if any) end 54 holes beneath par, barring some sensational play from the ultimate teams.
Needing to leapfrog seven different gamers, Grant’s aim is to fireside a spherical within the 60s Saturday. But she conceded: “I can also see that it will be a struggle to get it under 70.”
Much of the final-round forecasting is climate dependent – if the wind switches path, or dies down fully, the par 5s turn out to be extra gettable and the course presents extra scoring alternatives.
It’s additionally not possible to quantify the impression of the strain. In the ultimate group, Zhang has gained a USGA title and Lindblad has competed for her nation, however by no means have they carried out from the lead place, on this worldwide stage.
“It would mean the world, honestly,” Zhang stated. “Anyone who can have a title at Augusta National, it’s just a dream come true. It’s just surreal.”