The Kentucky women’s golf team is one good round away from a historic Sunday finale at the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational.
With another total team effort, the Wildcats increased their lead at the Bettie Lou to eight strokes over Penn State with 18 holes left to go at the University Club of Kentucky’s Big Blue Course (par 72, 6,114 yards).
If Kentucky can hang on to its lead, UK would check off a number of milestones. The Wildcats are not only trying to repeat as Bettie Lou Evans Invitational champions for the first time since winning it back-to-back in 1996 and 1997, Kentucky is seeking its first multi-win season since 1997-98 and its first back-to-back titles in the same season since 1990-91, when UK would go on to win a school-record four tournaments. The Wildcats won their season-opening event at the Minnesota Invitational.
But first things first, and that’s 18 holes Sunday of what should be a tight finish, especially after what Penn State did a season ago when the Nittany Lions nearly erased a 16-shot deficit in the final round in an attempt to spoil UK’s 2018 title.
“We’ve just got to get our minds right tomorrow,” UK head coach Golda Borst said. “I’m sure they will be a little nervous. They just need to stay calm and know that they belong there. This is the moment that we want to play for. This is where we want to be, so we really just have to capitalize on the position we’ve put ourselves in and enjoy it.”
This year’s finale will be played out Sunday at 9 a.m. with a shotgun start. Admission is free and fans are encouraged to attend. Live scoring will continue to be available at GolfStat.com.
For the second day in a row, Kentucky opened up a sizeable lead before the wind kicked up on the back nine and cut into the gap. After a first-day 285, the Wildcats followed up in the second round with a 287 to lead the 13-team field at 4-under par.
Even with a few back-nine hiccups, it would be hard for Borst to find fault for any of her players with all five competing for the team score in the top 15 and four in the top 10.
Rikke Svejgård Nielsen, who is seeking her sixth top-20 finish in just 12 career starts, had the low round of the day for UK and has her sights set on a possible individual championship. The junior carded a 2-under-par 70 in the second round and trails Tulane’s Carlota Palacios by one shot. If she can vault Palacios and hold off everyone else, it would mark her second collegiate individual championship after winning last year’s MSU Greenbrier Invitational.
Senior Sarah Shipley is seeking her first career medalist honors at Kentucky and is very much in the hunt at 1-under par. She dropped a couple spots Saturday into a tie for sixth with a 1-over-par 73 but she’s only three shots back and has championship pedigree after winning two major amateur tournaments just two months ago during the UK offseason.
Sophomore Casey Ott is tied with Shipley after one of the best rounds on the course in the second round. She carded a team-high six birdies Saturday for a 71 and is at 1-under par overall. After every bogey she made in the second round, she immediately answered with a birdie.
Freshman Marissa Wenzler followed her 72 in the first round with a 73 on day two. She can’t be ruled out for a run at medalist honors either with a score of 1-over par, five back of Palacios.
Freshman Jensen Castle rounds out the team scoring for the Wildcats at 3-over par after a second-round 74. If there’s a reason to feel confident about UK’s chances, look no further than the highly-touted freshman. The most decorated signee in program history hasn’t played to her potential yet after tying for third and helping the Wildcats seal the championship at the Minnesota Invitational earlier in the month.
“I love having this many players towards the top of the leaderboard and in the top 10,” Borst said. “I’d love to have all nine of them. That’s a coach’s dream. I’m excited to see the shootout tomorrow. I’m excited to see some low scores.”
The Kentucky quintet will likely need to be just as good Sunday to hold off Penn State. The Nittany Lions trailed by 16 shots at one point during last year’s final round and nearly came all the way back with an 18-hole tournament record score of 278. UK was able to hold on by two strokes for its first win at the Bettie Lou since 2011 and its first tournament championship of any kind since 2013.
Sophomore Ryan Bender leads the four other Wildcats competing as individuals. She moved up the leaderboard Saturday with a 2-over-par 74, which is tied for her second-best 18-hole score at as a Wildcat. She’s tied for 25th at 6-over par.
Junior Sarah Fite couldn’t match her solid round Friday with a 78 on Saturday. She’s at 9-over par overall and tied for 38th.
Freshman Kelsey Wylie is tied for 54th at 12-ovear par after a 79 in the second round, and a 78 by Josephine Chang on Saturday puts the senior in a tie for 61st at 13-over par.
The Bettie Lou Evans Invitational is in its 30th year – after periodic breaks – and named after longtime UK head coach (1979 to 2001) and former director of operations (2002 to 2018) Bettie Lou Evans.
GO CATS –
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