SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (UK Athletics)– The Kentucky women’s golf team will head into the third round of the NCAA Championship finals on the wrong side of the cut line, but the Wildcats are still very much in contention to make it the Monday’s final stroke-play round if they can put together a solid score Sunday.
With the top 15 teams moving on after 54 holes, UK is currently tied for 21st place through 36 holes, six shots and six spots off the cut. Playing in the afternoon wave Saturday after the first half of the field enjoyed ideal conditions in the morning, the Wildcats battled through wind gusts near 30 miles per hour at the Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor Course (par 72, 6,384 yards) in Scottsdale, Arizona to post a 19-over-par 307 in the second round.
Kentucky, at 30-over par overall, will be in the afternoon groups again Sunday and will tee off with Southern California and Alabama off No. 10 at 12:36 a.m. MT (3:36 p.m. ET).
Live scoring will continue to be available at Golfstat.com and the official Kentucky women’s golf social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), @KentuckyWGolf, will have updates throughout the round. Post-round coverage will be available at UKathletics.com. For spectators in the area, admission is free and no ticket is required.
“We could have handled (the wind) better,” UK head coach Golda Borst said. “The back nine is brutal. It’s a really good setup, but with the wind and gusts, it’s really tough. I think we made some mental errors and just weren’t quite able to play as well today as we wanted to.”
Kentucky started the day in 12th place after an 11-over-par 299 Friday and began on the tougher back nine.
Sophomore María Villanueva Aperribay rolled in birdies on holes 12 and 13 and senior captain Rikke Svejgård Nielsen and sophomore Jensen Castle both birdied the par-5 11th to get the Wildcats off to a good start.
But UK was a bit unlucky when it played the highest point of the golf course – holes 13 through 17 – at the windiest part of the day. The Wildcats gave some shots back as the course tightened up and fell back into a jumbled middle of the field.
The wind persisted and the opening few holes of the front nine delivered some high scores for the Wildcats. They salvaged the end of the round with key birdies from Castle, sophomore Marissa Wenzler and freshman Laney Frye on the par-5 seventh hole.
Twelve teams, from the 12th position all the way to 23rd, are within 12 shots of each other. In other words, Sunday could be a wild race for the final few Monday positions.
“We need to make sure we have a good attitude about tomorrow,” Borst said. “When we play our best, we’re positive, we keep our heads held high and we’ve got to believe in what we’re doing. So, I’m really pushing them to hold each other accountable to that, to be in the moment and to help each other through this. They’re such great teammates and they have love for each other. Now is the time they need each other to pump each other up and go play hard.”
Frye remains in the front of the Kentucky pack at 4-over par and is tied for 40th place. After carding an even-par 72 in the opening round, the 2021 Southeastern Conference All-Freshman pick was among the leaders for much of Saturday with an ever-par score through 11 holes. But a bogey on No. 3 and a triple on No. 4 when she tried going for the par 5 in two shots set her back. She answered the adversity nicely with a birdie on No. 7 and pars on 8 and 9.
If Kentucky is not fortunate enough to qualify for Monday’s final stroke-play round, Frye is very much in the running to advance as an individual. The top nine individuals not on an advancing team move on to the final round of stroke play on Monday.
Wenzler ot off to a rough start in the high winds and was 7-over par through eight holes. However, she fought back to go 2-under par the rest of the day and followed up her first-round 74 with a 77 Saturday. The sophomore is tied for 74th at 7-over par overall.
Villanueva Aperribay handled the first nine the best of any UK player with three birdies, three pars and three bogeys, but she stumbled down the stretch with two bogeys and a triple on her final hole to finish with a 78. The Spaniard is tied for 81st.
Castle rebounded nicely from considerable adversity. After an 82 in the opening round, the highest of her Kentucky career, she could have folded after her opening tee shot took a bad bounce into a water hazard and resulted in a double bogey. She battled back to go 2-over par the rest of the day and carded a 76. The 2021 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier is at 14-over par overall and tied for 120th.
Svejgård Nielsen, who last week tied for fifth place alongside Villanueva Aperribay at the NCAA Columbus Regional, has been unable to continue her late-season hot streak. Entering this weekend with three top-20 finishes over her last four events and season-low scores in four consecutive tournament appearances, she is also tied for 120th 14-over par. Kentucky’s captain carded a 79 in the second round.
On Sunday, Kentucky will want to do more than just make the cut; it will also want to put itself in position for Monday’s match-play cut. From the fourth round, the top eight teams from the 72-hole total scores will move on to the match-play bracket, which will be seeded in order of finish in stroke play. An individual champion will also be crowned after stroke play. A knockout match-play competition will then take place to determine the team national champion.
Kentucky has been a strong comeback team this spring so moves up the leaderboard Sunday and Monday are certainly not out of the question. The Wildcats have come from as far back as 15th place after day one to finish in third place at the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic and fourth at last week’s NCAA Columbus Regional after starting in 11th.
UK is making its first NCAA Championship finals appearance since 1992. The program’s best national finish was fifth place at its inaugural appearance in 1986. The Wildcats competed in the NCAA Championship finals five times in a seven-season span from 1986 to 1992 under longtime head coach Bettie Lou Evans but had not been back since.
The Raptor Course is a Tom Fazio design. With tight fairways, fast greens and desert lurking with any misfire, this week’s track serves as the consummate test to crown a national champion. For many of the Wildcats, it is the first time they have played a desert course.