Oct. 23, 2011
BY JOHN PAINTER
Kaitlyn Rohrback didn't make the Tennessee lineup for this weekend's Mercedes-Benz SEC/Pac-12 Challenge, but she nearly etched her name in the tournament history book.
The sophomore from Crofton, Md., challenged for medalist honors Sunday thanks to a sizzling front nine before settling for a third-place tie that is her best collegiate finish to date.
Tennessee placed fourth in the tournament and the SEC captured the challenge portion over its Pac-12 rivals as the fall 2011 golf season closed on a solid note at Holston Hills Country Club.
"We had a good tournament," UT head coach Judi Pavón said. "When you come into a field like this, you want the (top) teams here but it's a little scary because if you mess up even a little bit you can finish 10th or 15th really easy.
"Having Erica (Popson) hurt and not playing well left it up to the other four, and for them to do what they did was pretty special."
Tennessee held on to a fourth-place tie with Southern California despite shooting its worst team score of the weekend, 9-over-par 297. UT and USC finished at 16-over 880, just one stroke behind third-place Auburn (879).
Alabama swept the team and individual trophies. The Crimson Tide finished at 1-over-par 865, with Stephanie Meadow earning top medalist with a 5-under-par score of 211. UCLA finished second in the team competition at 869, with Vanderbilt's Lauren Stratton the second-place individual finisher at 3-under 213.
The SEC defeated the Pac-12 in the tournament challenge by a final margin of 896.1 to 898.8. Those numbers are the three-day average scores of all 12 SEC squads and all 11 Pac-12 teams (Utah does not field a women's golf team).
"I knew exactly what was going on and I knew I needed to make birdie my last two," Rohrback said. "She had three possible birdie holes left with 16, 17 and 18, so I went for some tight pins and didn't get rewarded."
Rohrback started play Sunday on No. 16 and was 1 over through four holes. But the birdie-train began on No.2 and Rohrback played her next five holes in 4 under par. She finished the front side in 33 strokes and was still 3 under for the day when she came to No. 14.
"My game plan on tight pins like on 14 and 15 is go for the middle of the green, but I couldn't do that because you don't make birdies that way," Rohrback said.
She three-putted No. 14 from above the hole, and then hit her approach at No. 15 into the right green-side bunker, leading to another bogey. Rohrback carded 71-72-71 for the weekend and the third-place trophy topped her best previous finish of seventh last spring at the Bryan National Collegiate.
"You always want to win and it hurts, it definitely hurts a little bit," Rohrback said. "But I'm very pleased with the week as a whole. I can think about this last tournament during the offseason and it's a good one."
"For Kaitlyn to play so well as an individual just says a lot about our team and the possibilities for the spring if we can get healthy, keep working hard and get a little mentally tougher," Pavón said. "We can really do something in the postseason."
Erica Popson, Tennessee's top player who withdrew Saturday because of an injured thumb, returned to the course Sunday and managed a 79 that did not figure in the UT scoring. The junior and defending Mercedes-Benz champion is now ready to get healthy and have a productive offseason.
"It wasn't pretty, but I played," Popson said. "I'm just looking forward to having surgery, getting my hand fixed and hopefully getting to practice and play a lot in the spring. We'll see what happens.
Thomas finished strong for the Lady Vols, shooting 71-70 over the weekend after opening with 78.
"It was much better the second two days," she said. "I'm glad I finished strong. Maybe I was a little too nervous (Friday). The last two days, I was very confident - especially with my putts. I felt I could two-putt from anywhere, or if it was inside 15 feet I thought it was going in. That makes a huge difference."
"Overall, it was a really good week for us," she said. "Everyone had a day where they wish they could take back a few things, but that's how golf is. It was a really good way to end our fall."
Monberg was a shaky 5 over par for the day through 11 holes before rallying to play her final seven holes in minus-3. She shot 74 to claim a tie for 24th place at 4-over 220.
"So many thoughts were going through my head: `You cannot let your team down. You cannot let your team down. You've got to get it back,'" Monberg said. "I was so upset with myself and so disappointed.
"But I knew 15, 16, 17 and 18 are pretty easy holes, so I knew I could make a few birdies in. It was just keep it together and see if I could get it back."
Monberg's birdies came via the 12th, 16th and 17th holes. She jump-started the comeback with a beautiful approach at No. 12 to set up an easy 3.
"I think I needed that," she said. "It helped me reset and then I could go from there. It was good I hit that shot and it was good to finish strong. I'm still disappointed, but it's OK. My putter was better today, so that helped a lot."
Newell capped her first fall of collegiate golf with a round of two birdies against five bogeys. The freshman shot 75 Sunday to finish in a tie for 44th place at 8-over 224.
"I'm satisfied with how I did this fall," Newell said. "I can't complain too much. I'm proud of myself and I'm ready to work hard this offseason. It's good as a freshman to think you can come in and help the team, so that's all I'm going to try to do in the spring. Just do my best and see where that puts me."
Mansson held on to a tie for seventh place at 1-over 217.
"I was trying to fight it back the best I could," Mansson said. "I knew I wasn't going to win even if I had a really good back nine, but it was good to finish with a birdie on 18 and help the team. I'm not happy with today but it's a new experience and I'll keep going."
Leigh Henderson was Tennessee's other individual competitor and the Knoxville junior improved by 10 strokes over her Saturday round. Henderson closed with 76 and finished in a tie for 100th place at 22-over 238.
"I was just trying to hit a lot of greens," said Henderson, who shot 37 on the front side. "My (putting) speed was really good. I didn't make a lot but I didn't have any three-putts, and I made a few 8-footers.
"I just need to work on my irons and being more accurate there."
Tennessee is off until March 2-4, when the spring season begins at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate in Hilton Head, S.C. It's the first of four tournaments heading into the SEC Championship, set this season for Fayetteville, Ark. The NCAA Championship takes place May 22-25 in Middle Tennessee, at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.
|T-4.||Southern California||298-295-287--880 (+16)|
|T-10.||Arizona State||300-301-294--895 (+31)|
|17.||South Carolina||310-305-293--908 (+44)|
|21.||Oregon State||313-300-308--921 (+57)|
|22.||Washington State||312-309-307--928 (+64)|
|23.||Mississippi State||317-310-305--932 (+68)|
|1.||Stephanie Meadow, Alabama||68-71-72--211 (-5)|
|2.||Lauren Stratton, Vanderbilt||68-72-73--213 (-3)|
|T-3.||Kaitlyn Rohrback, TENNESSEE||71-72-71--214 (-2)|
|T-3.||Marta Sanz, Auburn||74-71-69--214 (-2)|
|5.||Erynne Lee, UCLA||70-73-72--215 (-1)|
|T-3.||Kaitlyn Rohrback *||71-72-71--214 (-2)|
|T-7.||Nathalie Mansson||72-67-78--217 (+1)|
|T-20.||Chessey Thomas||78-71-70--219 (+3)|
|T-24.||Sara Monberg||70-76-74--220 (+4)|
|T-44.||AJ Newell||71-78-75--224 (+8)|
|T-100.||Leigh Henderson *||76-86-76--238 (+22)|
|T-119.||Erica Popson||78-WD-79--NA (--)|
|*Competed as individual.|