BY ALEX PODLOGAR
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – They ran into each other at the Detroit airport.
They did it again after the second round of the 112th Women’s North & South Amateur.
Stanford teammates Casey Danielson and Lauren Kim helped the Cardinal win the Pac-12 Conference Championship in April and now are each setting their sights on one of amateur golf’s top prizes, both ascending to the top of the North & South leaderboard with UCLA’s Alison Lee at Pinehurst No. 8 on Wednesday.
And they plan to stay together for a while.
“It’s funny,” said Danielson, who shot the round of the day with a sparkling bogey-free 68. “We traveled here together, we’re staying with the same host family, and she’s coming to visit me after this tournament at home in Wisconsin. And so it’s fun she’s playing well.”
— Marissa Mar (@marissalmar) May 10, 2014
Nobody played better on Wednesday, though, than Danielson, who hit 13 of 14 fairways and 15 greens in regulation. Starting on the 10th tee after an 80-minute rain delay, Danielson opened with seven straight pars until birdies on 17 and 18. She added a birdie on the short par-4 3rd before finishing with six straight pars to move to 2 under for the championship.
“I was very consistent,” said Danielson, whose group was playing right in front of Kim’s. “I’m hitting the ball really well. I’m striking it a lot better than I have been.”
That leaves her tied with Lee and her teammate Kim. The rising junior at Stanford, who recently finished third in the NCAA Championship, backed up her 1-under 70 on Tuesday with a second 70, despite opening with a double bogey. Making five birdies helped.
“I played solid today,” Kim said. “I wasn’t as sharp as I was (Tuesday), but I got up and down a lot and was making putts.”
Both players teed off following the suspension of play. On Monday, both Danielson and Kim had their rounds interrupted by a 65-minute rain delay. Combined, though, they played their final holes in 4 under after the rain, then followed Tuesday’s delay with more inspired play.
“I think I want it to keep raining,” joked Danielson. “I’m liking these delays.”
“Exactly!” chimed in Kim.
Lee made a run in the afternoon at Danielson’s low round of the tournament, reaching 4 under after playing the first 15 holes without a bogey. But a three-putt on 16 and missed 5-footer for par on 17 dropped her back into the three-way tie.
“Despite those two holes, I played really well,” Lee said. “I’m pleased with where I am. Especially in this event, it’s more about staying in the top 16. That’s when the tournament really starts.”
The top 60 players and ties made the cut to the third round of stroke play, which will determine the top 16 seeds for match play. The champion will be decided with match play at No. 8 on Friday and Saturday.
While the tournament threatens to turn into another Pac-12 Conference championship – “I’m proud to be a part of the Pac-12,” said Lee, the conference’s champion in 2014 – Arkansas star Gaby Lopez may have something to say about it. Lopez, who has had just one 3-putt in 36 holes, made the turn in 3-over 39 after four bogeys, but turned it around with four birdies on the back 9 to become just the fourth player under par after a 1-under 70.
“It was a mindset change,” Lopez said the difference between the two 9s. “I started hitting it close on the back, and with the way I was putting, I was able to go on a little run.”
Defending champion Ally McDonald again struggled to get looks at birdies, but was a master at getting up-and-down, recovering from a double bogey on the second hole to shoot 1-over 72 and remain comfortably among the top 10 entering Thursday’s final round of stroke play. McDonald is trying to become the first back-to-back North & South champion wince Beth Bauer in 1998-99.
Two years after the men’s North and South Amateur Championship began in 1900, the women’s championship was born and now celebrates its 111th year. It has become one of the most sought after women’s amateur titles and routinely displays the talents of the top amateurs in the game.
North & Southchampions are among the legends of the game: Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk Bell, Hollis Stacey, Brandie Burton, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng. Eight of the last 11 North & South champions have earned their LPGA Tour cards.