Apr. 3—Friday was a day of preparation and appreciation for the competitors at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
The full field of 82 had the chance to play Augusta National Golf Club for a practice round ahead of Saturday’s final round, which will be played by the top 30 players after Wednesday and Thursday’s rounds at Champions Retreat.
For those 30, Friday was a five-hour cram session as they tried to learn as much as they can about how to play Augusta National before a final round where anything can happen. Fifteen players — seven of whom are ranked in the top 18 in the world — are within five shots of co-leaders Rose Zhang and Ingrid Lindblad, the only players in the field under par.
The leaderboard logjam was just another thing for the co-leaders to think about as they slept on the lead for another night.
“It is, but I haven’t really thought about the leaderboard recently,” said Zhang, the Stanford-bound 17-year-old who’s No. 1 in the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. “It’s just knowing I’m in the final group and then just playing shot by shot. I mean, everyone still has 18 holes to go. So I mean, you can’t really — with the leaderboard being very close, I think everyone has a shot at it. So you just have to come out here and execute as much as you can.”
Zhang and fourth-ranked Lindblad are at 1-under 143, a shot clear of Vanderbilt junior Auston Kim and Olivia Mehaffey, a four-time All-American who returned for a fifth year at Arizona State. Mehaffey posted the low round of the tournament Thursday with a 69, and her preparation was different Friday than it was when she played in the inaugural ANWA in 2019 — because this time, she’s in contention.
“I mean somebody who is five shots back I believe could win because that’s how difficult it’s playing,” she said. “I don’t think you’re going to see anyone run away with it unless they go low, which I think is exciting but whoever wins tomorrow is going to have to play great golf because it’s a tough test right now.”
Jennifer Kupcho out-dueled Maria Fassi to win the inaugural tournament, and she put together one of the finest closing stretches ever at Augusta National. She played the final six holes in 5 under to shoot 67 and win by four shots.
A score like that Saturday could mean a runaway win for the leaders — or a surprise champion from farther down the leaderboard.
“I think on this course, everything is doable,” said University of South Carolina sophomore Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, who will start the final round five shots off the lead. “And anything, everything can happen. … So I will definitely go for it and have no regrets at the end of the day.”
The final pairing is a familiar one. Zhang and Lindblad, a sophomore at LSU, who played three matches against one another at the 2018 Junior Ryder Cup in Paris. Lindblad was victorious in the foursomes match, and they halved their four-ball and singles match — the latter when Zhang won the final three holes to square it.
Zhang is one of nine players in the final round who also advanced to Augusta National in 2019. Lindblad was not in the field, so Friday was her first look at the course.
“It’s going to be a little nervous,” she said. “I don’t feel like it’s the easiest tee shot on 1, either, so just trying to get a good target and swing with confidence.”
A final round with so many players in contention would be a must-watch at any tournament. Saturday’s a different story, because this wide-open, 18-hole sprint is taking place at Augusta National.
“It would mean the world (to win), honestly,” Zhang said. “Anyone who can have a title at Augusta National, I mean, it’s just a dream come true. But yeah, it’s just surreal.”