Women’s golf in 7th at NCAA Championships

Sophomore Mia Piccio surged into the top three at the NCAA Championships after tying three others for the second-lowest score Thursday as the No. 24 University of Florida women’s golf team posted a score of 296 (+10).

The Gators were briefly tied for the lead on the front nine but finished the day in seventh place, eight shots behind leader UCLA.

“We knew before we teed off today that the conditions were going to be difficult,” head coach Jan Dowling said, noting the wind at the course. “One of the things we talked about as a team was that, if you did get two, three, four over par which is a pretty respectable score today, just keep hanging in there and stay positive because there’s probably 100 other people in the field that are three, four, five over.”

Florida had a few blunders on the back nine to fall back from the lead after a good start to the day.

“We made some big numbers on the back nine that we wish we didn’t have, but you have to move forward,” Dowling said. There’s a lot of golf to play. We’re just halfway through this tournament. We have to take care of our own business. We need to keep handling adversity the way we can, that’s what we control.”

Piccio finished her second round at 70 (-2) on a day where just 13 of the 126 golfers in the field were under par. She bogeyed the third hole but played the last 15 holes at three-under without recording another bogey.

Meanwhile, she birdied Nos. 6, 12 and 14. The Philippines native is tied for third, four strokes back of LSU’s Austin Ernst.

“On No. 6, I hit it to about eight feet and made the putt and it was nice to get back to even,” Piccio said. “I hit it to six feet on 12 and grabbed the opportunity. On 14, I hit my drive really good, middle of the fairway about 95 yards out. It was downwind and it (my shot) went straight at the hole and landed three inches short of it.”

She helped her cause by hitting every green on the back nine and stayed out of danger while giving herself birdie opportunities.

“I try to keep my mistakes limited and just try to get out of trouble every time I’m in trouble, but I haven’t been much because I’ve been hitting it pretty well,” Piccio said.

Dowling also noted that Piccio is well-suited to playing under windy conditions.

“Mia is a very good wind player,” Dowling added. “The reason she’s a good wind player is because she controls her golf ball. She controlled her trajectory and I’m really proud of her. I can’t wait for the next two days for her specifically.”

Junior Evan Jensen shot a 74 (+2) that moved her 14 spots up the leaderboard. She wasted no time getting started after sticking her approach close and making a birdie on No. 1, getting up-and-down for par on No. 2 and then collecting another birdie on No. 3 to quickly move to two-under.

“It was nice to jumpstart like that,” Jensen said. “Usually, I kind of have a rocky start so it was good. Made a couple of birdies right away and it felt great. I was really hitting the ball well and putting well.”

Jensen fell back to even after consecutive bogeys on Nos. 5 and 6, but she rebounded with a birdie on No. 7 to finish the front nine at one under. She was even until 17, where she carded a triple bogey, but bounced back to end the afternoon on a strong note with a birdie on 18.

“On 17, I was in the fairway,” Jensen explained. “I hit a great shot coming into that green. The wind took it a little left and I ended up with a really bad lie in the bunker and had no stance and basically just had to hit it out of the hole that I was in. I was kind of mad at myself for making a seven on 17 and I knew that 18 was a very birdie-able hole and I knew where that pin was. I felt like I could redeem myself a little bit there. I’m feeling really comfortable right now and I’m ready to go low.”

Junior Andrea Watts also continued her solid play with a 74 (+2) to finish tied for 17th overall.

She battled back-and-forth on the front nine, overcoming a stretch from Nos. 3 through 6 where she went bogey-bogey-birdie-double bogey that had her at three-over early.

“Today was a struggle,” Watts revealed. “The wind was hard and I wasn’t hitting it as well. I got into trouble a few times and I really had to work to make birdies and come back.”

A birdie on 13 gave her some momentum and she ended the day by shooting one-under on the back nine punctuated with a birdie by 18.

“(Assistant coach) Jay (Goble) and I were arguing in the tee box on 13 about whether to hit 3-wood or driver and I finally gave in and went with what Jay said,” Watts admitted. “He wanted me to hit driver. When I got up there, I had this short little easy wedge shot to a really comfortable pin for me so I stuck it to three feet and made the putt for birdie and it was a confidence booster. On 18, Jay and I stood in the tee box and he said, ‘Three good shots and a good putt’ and I think I did just that.”

Senior Jessica Yadloczky shot an 80 (+8) on day two. Sophomore Isabelle Lendl was even through eight but struggled on the back nine as she finished the second round with an 83 (+11).

Florida is paired with California and Tennessee for the third round.

Yadloczky will tee off first for the Gators at 2:25 p.m., followed by Lendl, Jensen, Watts and Piccio in 11-minute intervals.