The weather drastically improved for Saturday's second round of the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, yet scores from some of the nation's top women golfers didn't necessarily follow suit at the challenging Long Cove Club.
One day after posting an impressive 4-under-par 67 in wet and windy conditions to capture the 18-hole lead, University of Alabama standout Stephanie Meadows scratched her way to a 1-over 72 to maintain a one stroke-lead over a pair of golfers heading into Sunday's final round of the Hilton Head Island tournament.
Meadow is one of only four players under par through 36 holes, as the par-71 Pete Dye layout more than held its own despite the absence of much wind and temperatures nearly 20 degrees warmer than what the players faced on Friday. Only six of 88 golfers broke par Saturday, the same number that accomplished the feat in the first round.
Sitting just a stroke behind Meadow at 2-under is Duke sophomore Celine Boutier, who put together an even-par 71, and LSU freshman Caroline Nistrup, whose 69 shared for the best round of the day with two other golfers. Duke's Yu Liu survived a roller-coaster round to post a 72 and is two shots back at 1-under.
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Just as they were on Friday, those golfers are looking up at Meadow.
"I don't think the course necessarily played any more difficult; it was just me, I hit some bad shots out there today," said Meadow. "So tomorrow I just have to be a little more committed and just stick to my plan."
Once again buoyed by the strong play of Boutier and Yu, No. 3-ranked Duke is 7-over for the tournament and enjoys a comfortable eight-shot lead over 14th-ranked Vanderbilt. The Commodores produced the top team effort Saturday at 6-over. Host South Carolina is a distant third at 22-over, one shot better than North Carolina.
Making the Blue Devils' performance all the more impressive is the fact they are playing without a fifth starter, senior Alejandra Cangrejo, who withdrew because of injury. The top four out of five scores count for each team during the competition.
"Considering we only have four players right now, I am really proud of the way we played," Yu said.
While it's undoubtedly a two-school battle for the team championship, the contest for individual medalist is far more crowded with a dozen players within six shots of the lead. Chief among those competitors is LSU's Nistrup, whose 69 Saturday moved her up from a tie for seventh at the start of the day to within one of Meadow's lead.
Finishing almost two hours before the leaders, the Denmark native hit 13 of 14 fairways and enjoyed some timely putting to post just a single bogey against three birdies.
"I hit my driver really solid today, and that made a big difference," Nistrup said. "I made some good putts for birdie and then just kept making pars."
Like many of Friday's leaders, Duke's Boutier found the Long Cove layout to be difficult down the stretch, struggling to hunt down some tight pin placements on greens that gathered speed as the day wore on. The France native suffered a bogey on the difficult par-4 14th that ultimately cost her a share of the second-round lead.
"I made a couple of bogeys, but other than that I thought I played pretty well," Boutier said. "The pin placements were more in the back and the course was getting very long. I just need to go out tomorrow and make some birdies. I only have four in two days, so I need to make more to win."
Like her teammate, Yu scuffled on a back nine that featured a double bogey on the 14th and back-to-back bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes. Before those struggles, the freshman, who started the day two shots off the lead, had caught Meadow for a brief period at 4-under.
"I four-putted 14 and then I just got too aggressive trying to get those shots back," Yu said. "I need to be more patient on this golf course and take the opportunities when they come to me."
With 18 holes remaining, the biggest opportunity on Sunday belongs to Meadow, who is quite familiar with Long Cove considering she is an International Junior Golf Academy graduate and her parents live on Hilton Head Island.
The senior has been a part of the Crimson Tide team that won the two previous Darius Rucker Intercollegiate events, and adding a medalist title to that resume in front of family and friends would certainly mean a lot.
"To a certain degree it benefits me," Meadow said of her familiarity with Long Cove. "I'm very comfortable, I really love it here. But at the end of the day you still have to go out and hit the shots and make the putts."
Darius Rucker Intercollegiate
Saturday, Long Cove Club
1. Duke 284-291--575, 2. Vanderbilt 293-290--583, 3. South Carolina 294-296--590, 4. North Carolina 295-297--592, 5. LSU 297-296--593, 6. Oklahoma 298-296--594, 7. Arkansas 297-300--597, T8. Alabama 293-306--599, T8. Virginia 305-294--599, 10. Stanford 297-303--600, 11. Wake Forest 299-302--601, 12. Tennessee 304-300--604, T13. Kentucky 307-299--606, T13. Auburn 305-301--606, T15. Arizona State 311-299--610, T15. Furman 307-303--610, 17. Georgia 317-295--612
Stephanie Meadow, Alabama 67-72--139 -3
Celine Boutier, Duke 69-71--140 -2
Caroline Nistrup, LSU 71-69--140 -2
Yu Liu, Duke 69-72--141 -1
Elizabeth Mallett, North Carolina 72-70--142 E
Simin Feng, Vanderbilt 74-69--143 +1
Noemi Jimenez, Arizona State 71-72--143 +1
Katelyn Dambaugh, South Carolina 71-73--144 +2
Anne Tanguay, Oklahoma 70-74--144 +2
Manuela Carbajo Re, Georgia 73-72--145 +3
Esther Lee, Duke 72-73--145 +3
Antonia Scherer, Vanderbilt 73-72--145 +3