With Fast Start, Cats Card Program-Best SEC Championship Score
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Kentucky women’s golf team finished its first day at the Southeastern Conference Championship with a wide range of emotions.
On the one side, there was plenty to like. The Wildcats, with a 1-under-par 287, carded the program’s best 18-hole score ever at the SEC Championship and tied their season low. Two players, sophomore María Villanueva Aperribay (3-under par) and freshman Laney Frye (2-under par), turned in under-par rounds, the first time multiple Kentucky players have recorded 18-hole scores in the red in the same round this season. And UK, with a fast start, got as low as 9-under par midway through the day and spent time atop the leaderboard with as many as three Wildcats in the top 10.
But Kentucky also left the Greystone Golf & Country Club Legacy Course (par 72, 6,253 yards) on Wednesday wondering what could have been. On a day when the course played soft and offered scoring opportunities, UK couldn’t quite hang on with 10 other teams under par and finished the day in 11th place. And after spending part of the round at or near the top of the leaderboard with few big numbers, UK faltered after a 50-minute lightning delay and gave several shots back down the stretch.
When the dust settled after the first of three rounds of stroke play in Birmingham, Alabama, Kentucky found itself very much in the hunt for one of the coveted top eight spots that will qualify for match play, but the Wildcats will likely need to come back Thursday with another strong round and finish this one off. UK is seven shots behind the current eighth-place holder, No. 23 Alabama.
No. 1 South Carolina and fourth-ranked LSU – coming off its 22-shot victory at its home event last week – lead the 14-team field at 16-under par, an 18-hole SEC Championship record.
The Gamecocks’ Ana Palaez, ranked second in the country, also set an individual 18-hole event record with a score of 8-under par and leads by two strokes.
“Although the round didn’t finish the way we would have liked, we did some really good things on the course today,” UK head coach Golda Borst said. “The entire team handled the moment very well. They were all very nervous, but they executed and stayed disciplined through that. We created a lot of opportunities throughout the entire day and it was great to see the putts drop. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish the way we would have liked, but we will grow from today’s round and continue to push to get better so we can finish stronger.”
The second round of stroke play resumes Thursday at 9 a.m. ET. Kentucky’s first tee time is at 9:20 a.m. ET off the back nine. Live scoring will continue to be available at Golfstat.com.
The Wildcats’ day began with a lot of promise. UK started on the back nine and quickly ascended to the top of the talented field with a combined nine birdies on the opening nine holes with only five scores of bogey or worse.
Frye and senior Rikke Svejgård Nielsen combined for six of those birdies on the first nine and kept it going early in the second half of the round as Frye got as low as 4-under par and Svejgård Nielsen was 2-under par with five holes to play.
Ultimately, it was Villanueva Aperribay who ended up with UK’s best score when the round was complete at 3-under par.
Although Villanueva Aperribay didn’t get off to quite as fast of a start as Frye and Svejgård Nielsen, she held steady at even par through the front nine and then really turned it on in the second half of the day as her teammates came back to the field a bit. Villanueva Aperribay played the final nine holes in 3-under par with three birdies and no bogeys to card a 69.
The 69 is tied for the lowest score by a Wildcat this season, which Villanueva Aperribay has done three of the four times. It is also her collegiate low. The transfer from Augusta is tied for 16th after the first round.
Frye has been strong out of the gate all season long. She was primed for her first round in the 60s heading into the final two holes but bogeyed both 8 and 9 to finish with a 70. It tied her career low – the third time she has fired a 70 this season – and marked her 10th round of par or better this season, now tied for the fourth most in single-season school history. She is tied for 25th.
Svejgård Nielsen was continuing her hot play until the lightning delay halted her momentum. Coming into the tournament with back-to-back top-20 finishes, the senior was at 2-under par late in the round but went bogey-bogey-bogey-double-par to finish the round at 3-under par, tied for 55th.
Sophomore Jensen Castle didn’t record a single birdie Wednesday and yet quietly had a solid performance. She nearly pulled off a perfect round of pars, notching the course standard for 17 holes until a bogey on her final hole. With a tournament-opening 73, she is tied for 44th.
Sophomore Marissa Wenzler recorded four birdies in her first round but was offset by a couple of double bogeys and three bogeys. At 4-over par, Wenzler is tied 59th place.
The first goal of the week for the Wildcats is to make the weekend. The top eight teams from the 54-hole, three-day stroke play will advance to match play with the quarterfinals and semifinals slated for Saturday and the championship match scheduled for Sunday. The format reflects the NCAA Championships format.
UK has not appeared in match play in the first two iterations of the new format but has high hopes to change that this week with a talented group that is coming off its best two overall performances of the season. Ranked No. 35 in the Golfstat rankings entering this week, Kentucky is a virtual lock for an at-large berth for NCAA Regionals after placing third last month at the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic and tying for sixth last week at the LSU Tiger Golf Classic.
Both of those events were largely against SEC competition with all 14 teams in the Liz Murphey and 12 in the LSU event. Entering this week, eight league teams ranked in the latest Golfstat top 25 and 12 in the top 50. Because of COVID-19 safety protocols this season and a more regional- and conference-focused scheduling format, the Wildcats have played against conference competition frequently this season and more than held their own.
Greystone Golf & Country Club’s Legacy Course is once again playing host to the league finale. The Legacy Course is carved naturally from a visually dramatic landscape of placid lakes, meandering streams and the undulation of Alabama’s Appalachian foothills. Designed by world-famous architect Rees Jones, each hole is an inviting yet demanding contest. The Zoysia fairways and Bent Grass greens found at Legacy provide golfers with surfaces that are both challenging and rewarding.
Kentucky has finished as high as second in the SEC Championship but has never won it. The Wildcats’ highest finish in the Borst era is fifth. UK’s 885 in in the 2017 tournament was its best 54-hole score in the event’s history.
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