Women’s NCAA Championship: Stanford rebounds after early struggles, Wake Forest takes lead and more from Friday’s first round

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Morning clouds burned off with plenty of afternoon sunlight during the first round of the 2023 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship, but Grayhawk Golf Club remained a stern test for the best women’s college golfers.

Only six of the 30 teams in the field shot under par in the first round, and the scoring average was nearly three shots over par. Although conditions were more favorable for scoring in the morning, the sun and some wind made it tougher in the afternoon, but it didn’t hamper every team.

Oklahoma State held the lead after a morning round of 8-under 280, but it sits second going into Saturday. And for defending national champion Stanford, it had a major turnaround.

NCAA Leaderboard: Team | Individual

Here’s a look at what happened during the first round of the women’s NCAA Championship:

Wake Forest takes the lead

Mimi Rhodes started it with a bang, and Lauren Walsh ended it with one, too.

Wake Forest, one of the favorites coming into the week, sure looked the part during the opening round. Rhodes went off first and birdied the first hole. Walsh was in the penultimate group and birdied her last four and five on the back nine, but the final one on the par-4 ninth hole propelled the Demon Deacons past Oklahoma State and into the first-round lead.

Walsh shot 5-under 31 on the back nine and is at 5 under for the tournament, one shot behind Oklahoma State’s Maddison Hinson-Tolchard. Rhodes and Rachel Kuehn each shot 2-under 70. Emilia Migliaccio and Carolina Lopez-Chacarra shot even par.

Last year, Wake Forest came to Grayhawk as the fourth-ranked team and missed the 15-team cut after 54 holes. This year, the Demon Deacons are the top-ranked team in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, and they played like it Friday.

Stanford rebounds after early struggles

Coming into the NCAA Championship as the defending national champion, Stanford was a favorite to repeat. Its sophomore star, Rose Zhang, was also heavily favored to repeat as individual champion. Rachel Heck, the 2021 individual champion, was also back in the lineup, adding further excitement.

After the opening nine, Stanford was 8 over and carded only three birdies. Only four teams were beneath the Cardinal on the leaderboard.

Come the back nine, it was a different story.

Stanford went on a run and got it back to even par with a flurry of back-nine birdies. Zhang finished at even par. Megha Ganne was the low Cardinal, shooting 4 under, which came consecutively on the back nine.

2023 NCAA Women's Golf Championship
2023 NCAA Women's Golf Championship

Rose Zhang from Stanford plays her tee shot on the 10th hole during the first day of stroke play competition at the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club. (Photo: Rob Schumacher)

For Heck, it was a struggle in her return from rib surgery. She started and ended with a bogey in an 82.

However, the Cardinal is inside the top 10 after the first day, a start contrast from how it started early.

Another front-nine birdie barrage

Lucia Lopez-Ortega made birdies early and often Friday. 

In total, the sophomore at San Jose State carded eight birdies. Add in three bogeys, and it was good enough for a 5-under 67 performance, one back of Hinson-Tolchard for the individual lead after 18 holes.

Her front-nine barrage (Lopez-Ortega’s second nine) was stellar. She had five birdies on Nos. 1, 2, 4, 7 and 8. An unfortunate bogey on the ninth hole took her out of a tie for the lead, but it was a strong day nevertheless.

San Jose State sits inside the top 10 as a team after the opening round.

Georgia also sets school record

Georgia, like Oklahoma State, also set a school record for best round at the NCAA Championship, carding a 2-under 286.

Jenny Bae, the runner-up at the 2023 Augusta National Women’s Amateur and winner of the Athens Regional last week, carded a 2-under 70. Then, matching 1-under 71s from LoraLie Cowart and Jo Hua Hung also guided the Bulldogs.

Georgia’s previous NCAA Championship record was a pair of 1-under scores – a 287 in the final round in 1992 and a 295 on a par-74 layout in 1988.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek