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Stanford's Zhang first to win consecutive NCAA women's golf titles

Rose Zhang Rose Zhang - The Canadian Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Rose Zhang won just about everything there is in amateur golf.

With a flawless performance at the NCAA Championships, the Stanford sophomore now has done something no one else has, not even Lorena Ochoa: win back-to-back national titles.

Zhang shot a bogey-free, 4-under 68 on Monday to become the first woman to win multiple national titles and tie the NCAA record for wins in a season.

“I was really fortunate to play at the same time as Lorena Ochoa and I felt her greatness was unmatched,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “Rose Zhang really reminds me a lot of Lorena.”

Zhang turns 20 on Wednesday already with a full amateur resume. She won the U.S. Women's Amateur in 2020, the U.S. Girls' Junior in 2021 and the Augusta National Women's Amateur last month.

Starting four shots back, Zhang made up ground and was up one when San Jose State's Lucia Lopez-Ortega made consecutive bogeys. Zhang saved par on Grayhawk Golf Club’s par-4 17th hole with a delicate chip and tapped in for par on No. 18.

Zhang finished at 10-under 278 over 72 holes to match Ochoa’s NCAA records for wins in a season (eight) and career (12). Her 12 wins breaks the Stanford record for men or women, held by Tiger Woods and three others.

A Stanford player won the individual NCAA title for a third straight year. Rachel Heck, currently sidelined by injury, won in 2021 as a freshman.

Zhang helped Stanford secure the top seed heading into Tuesday's match play in its bid to win consecutive national titles.

“When you’re chasing from behind, you really don’t know what is happening until everything’s completed,” Zhang said. “To come off of 18 and everyone saying you just won, that’s something that I wouldn’t really have imagined starting out the day.”

Lopez-Ortega closed out her round with a birdie to shoot 71. She tied for second at 9 under with Southern California's Catherine Park, who missed a short birdie putt on the par-5 18th that would have tied her with Zhang.

Zhang had a record-breaking freshman season, setting the NCAA's single-season scoring mark at 69.68 while winning individual and team championships. She has been even better this season, arriving in the desert with a 68.70 scoring average.

Zhang's win is her eighth in 10 starts this season, including the Pac-12 Championships and the NCAA Pullman Regional.

Zhang made up a four-shot deficit quickly on Park, the overnight leader, by turning the front nine in 3-under 33 at Grayhawk's Raptor Course. Zhang rolled in a birdie on the par-5 11th to reach 10 under, but Lopez-Ortega tied her with a birdie on the par-3 fifth after starting on the front nine.

When Lopez-Ortega fell off with consecutive bogeys, the stage was set for Zhang.

She hit a good drive on the par-5 18th, leaving 195 yards the hole. With water right, Zhang still planned on going for the green with her second shot, figuring at worst she'd hit it into the greenside bunker.

Then Walker stepped in, suggesting she lay up instead. She did, two-putting for the title.

“She was like, ‘No, no, you have a one-shot lead,’” Zhang said. “Then I thought, ‘Oh wait, maybe I should reconsider everything that just happened.’”

Park got better as the season progressed, tying for second at the Silverado Showdown and tying for third at the Pac-12 Championships. She took a two-shot lead into the final round at Grayhawk by tying the NCAA record with a 64 in the second round and following with a 71 on Sunday.

Park sandwiched two birdies around a bogey on the short par-4 sixth hole in the final individual round, then had a two-putt birdie on the par-5 seventh. She saved par when a fast-running chip on the par 3 hit the flagstick, but made bogey on the par-4 ninth.

Park pushed her lead back to two with a curling putt on the par-4 12th, but a three-putt down a steep slope on the par-4 15th dropped her a shot behind when Zhang dropped in a birdie at No. 11.

Park hit a good chip shot from just short of the 18th hole, but pushed the birdie putt right.

"It was a roller coaster, a lot of emotions going on," Park said. “I didn't want to overthink it, but I was a little anxious.”

Zhang never was, earning a rarified spot in women's golf.


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