Sophomore Jensen Castle looked like freshman Jensen Castle at Monday’s opening round of The Ally.
That’s a good thing for the Kentucky women’s golf team if it hopes to build on the success it had in 2019-20.
Castle, who broke the school’s single-season stroke average record in her debut year last season, stumbled out of the gates two weeks ago at a tough course at the Blessings Collegiate Invitational, finishing outside the top 20 for just the second time in seven college events.
On Monday, she looked like her old self.
The second-year Wildcat led Kentucky with a 3-under-par 69 and has positioned herself in familiar territory after the first round at The Ally: in the top five and breathing down the leader’s neck.
Castle was the bright spot for Kentucky in the first 18 holes at Old Waverly Club (par 72, 6,377 yards) in West Point, Mississippi. UK, playing against a predominantly Southeastern Conference field for the second straight tournament, is in 13th place at 14-over par.
Florida leads the 15-team field, which also includes Southern Miss, at 8-under par.
The second of three rounds resumes Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. ET. The Wildcats will tee off at 11 a.m. ET. Live scoring will continue to be available at GolfStat.com.
The Ally is the second of three fall tournaments on Kentucky’s fall schedule. UK opened the season with an eighth-place finish at the BCI in Fayetteville, Arkansas in the SEC-only field. After careful consideration from health officials, the SEC deemed it safe for league membership to participate in three team events in the fall, but teams are limited to events involving only SEC members or nonconference teams from the tournament host’s geographic region.
Castle tied for 31st at the BCI, but the showing was a little misleading. She dug herself a deep hole with a first-round 81, far and away the highest score of her college career. The sophomore steadied the ship in rounds two and three with a 72 and a 76, and she kicked it into another gear Monday in Mississippi.
The 2020 All-SEC First Team pick was steady on her opening nine (the back nine) with a birdie and a bogey followed by seven straight pars. From there, Castle made her move. Birdies at No. 2 and No. 3 vaulted her into the top 10, and there she stayed with two more birdies and just one bogey to finish out the round.
Castle is in fifth place through the first 18 of 54 holes. LSU’s Ingrid Lindblad, who finished in second place at the BCI, leads the 75-player field at 5-under par.
One bad hole prevented freshman Laney Frye from joining Castle near the top of the leaderboard. The first-year Wildcat, who debuted for UK as the top freshman in the BCI field with a sixth-place finish, was once again steady with 14 pars and a birdie on Monday.
The lone major hiccup was a triple bogey on her fourth hole of the day. That led to a 76 overall, putting her a tie for 46th place.
Senior Rikke Svejgård Nielsen is tied for 57th place at 6-over par and junior Casey Ott and sophomore Marissa Wenzler are tied for 61st at 7-over par. The common denominators in their Monday rounds: difficult opening nines.
Svejgård Nielsen shot a 42 on her first nine but followed with an even-par 36. Ott went out in 43 and came in with a 36. Wenzler shot a 40 on the back nine (UK’s first nine) and a 39 on the back.
Managing Old Waverly’s back nine better on Tuesday will be critical if the Wildcats hope to climb the leaderboard. They posted just four combined birdies with 19 holes of bogey or worse on the opening nine. On the second nine, Kentucky turned those numbers around for seven birdies and just six bogeys or worse.
The renamed MSU tournament, The Ally, is in honor of former Mississippi State golfer Ally McDonald Ewing, an All-American who set a number of program records and currently plays on the LPGA Tour. Old Waverly Golf Club, designed by Bob Cupp and host of the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, consistently appears in both Golfweek’s Top 100 and Golf Digest’s Top 100 courses.
UK is coming off a 2019-20 season that featured two championships and a runner-up finish, new records for team scoring average and individual scoring average (Castle), posted 10 individual top-10 showings and 20 top-20 finishes. The bulk of the group responsible for those numbers is back for 2020-21.