April 15, 2011
By Zach Stipe, Media Relations Assistant
AUBURN, Ala. - Sophomore Erica Popson fired the lowest first round score in SEC Championship history to lead the No. 11-ranked Tennessee Lady Vol golf team to a 3-under 285 first-round performance on Friday at the conference tournament at the Auburn Golf Club.
Popson made six birdies and no bogeys en route to a career-best 6-under 66, breaking her own collegiate-best and the previous SEC Tournament first-day record by one stroke. The nation's leader in par-5 scoring, she birdied all four par-5s, as well as a pair of par-4s.
"Erica has been playing so well," Lady Vol head coach Judi Pavon said. "She made an early birdie and I knew she'd be good. She's kind of unstoppable right now."
Head Coach Judi Pavon Talks About UT's First Round
Popson's dazzling display kept the Lady Vols within striking distance of first-place on the leaderboard for most of the day, ultimately leaving them two shots behind No. 17 Auburn (283), the tournament host, on a windy day at the par-72, 6,364-yard course. Junior Nathalie Mansson (72), sophomore Sara Monberg (73) and freshman Chessey Thomas (74) rounded out the scoring for the Lady Vols. Fellow rookie Kaitlyn Rohrback carded a 76 as UT's fifth player.
"I'm really proud of the way the team came out and played today," Pavon said. "We didn't get off to a great start, but they came back and took advantage of the holes they needed to birdie. We really had a good back nine. We're going to keep fighting and competing, and see if we can move ahead tomorrow."
Tennessee will tee off the second round from No. 1 at 9:20 a.m. CT on Saturday in a group with the host Tigers and No. 8 LSU (1-under 287).
Popson nearly went 7-under-par on Friday, as her 12-foot birdie putt on No. 18 lipped out. The Davenport, Fla., native, who finished as the medalist runner-up in a playoff at the 2010 SEC Championship, consistently drove the ball long and down the middle of the fairway, giving herself ample birdie opportunities 10 to 15 feet from the pin.
"I felt really good, and I played really solid," Popson said. "I did a great job at sticking to one shot at a time. I normally get nervous over short putts, but I told myself to keep my head up and don't let anything stand in my way today. I have to keep the same mind set, and stay in the moment. Both team and individually, we are in good position. Hopefully it will be an exciting weekend."
Sara Monberg On Tennessee's Great Start
Popson takes a three-shot lead into Saturday's second round. Auburn's Cydney Clanton and Arkansas' Emily Tubert are tied for second at 3-under-par. She is seeking her third consecutive first-place finish after tying for first at the Rebel Intercollegiate earlier this month and winning the Bryan National by a stroke to cap March.
Mansson had a superb start and was 3-under-par through 10 holes, but faded down the stretch with a trio of bogeys on the back nine. Still, the two-time All-American nabbed her 34th career round of par of better (fourth-most in UT history) and sits tied for 14th.
A shot back of Mansson, Monberg is tied for 19th. She shook off back-to-back bogeys to start the round by making nine consecutive pars. She finished with 13 pars and a pair of birdies.
Thomas and Rohrback, both making their postseason debuts, played even-par golf on the back nine and are tied for 26th and 33rd, respectively.
Thomas even made three consecutive birdies on holes 15, 16 and 17. On the 500-yard, par-5 No. 16, she punched her third shot out of the bunker just a few feet away from the hole and sank the putt for birdie.
Rohrback closed her first round on a high note with a birdie on No. 18.
Popson's 66 is also the lowest first-round tally in Lady Vol history and ties with Mary Jan Fernandez (2002) as the lowest UT score at the SEC Championship. Only twice has a Lady Vol ever fired a round lower than a 66 - Young-A Yang (65) at the 2001 Bryan National and Marci Turner (64) at the 2006 Dr. Donnis Thompson.
|LADY VOL SCORES|
|1.||Erica Popson||66 (-6)|
|t14.||Nathalie Mansson||72 (E)|
|t19.||Sara Monberg||73 (+1)|
|t33.||Chessey Thomas||74 (+2)|
|t26.||Kaitlyn Rohrback||76 (+4)|