Nicole Abelar put up a big backside charge to salvage a one-under 72 and get into the early mix of things but Tomi Arejola and Rianne Malixi sputtered with 76 and 77, respectively, and in danger of missing the cut in the US Women’s Amateur at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington Monday.
Abelar, playing out of the Univ. of Houston, sprang back from a two-over card after 10 holes with three birdies in the last eight in a fine display of resiliency as she barged into joint 21st on a 38-34 card at the start of the 36-hole stroke play elims of the world’s premier amateur championship.
The Filipina ace, who gained entry into the 156-player field by placing fourth in the New Jersey qualifier, hopes to match her strong finish at the backside of the par-73 layout where she would launch her second day drive Tuesday.
Thirteen-year-old Alice Zhao of China, meantime, upstaged her more experienced rivals as she sizzled in a backside start, hitting six birdies that cushioned the impact of her two-birdie, two-bogey frontside card for the lead at six-under 67, the new women’s course record at Chambers Bay.
But three posted 68s, including Angela Liu, Laney Frye and Casey Weidenfeld, all from the US, another three carded 69s, led by Aussies Kelsey Bennett and Maddison Hinson-Tolchard, and American Brooke Seay, and four others shot a 70 each, led by recent Women’s Western Amateur champion Taglao Jeeravivitaporn of Thailand, Rachel Kuehn and fellow Americans Lauren Gomez and Cassie Kim, setting the stage for a spirited chase for medal honors and the top seeding in the match play.
The top 64 after the stroke play elims will move to the match play phase starting Wednesday with Arejola and Malixi hard-pressed to churn out low rounds to salvage spots in the knockout rounds.
Also starting at the front, Arejola, now with Campbell University after spending her first two years at Fairleigh Dickinson U in New Jersey, faltered with a 41 marred by a double bogey on the par-5 No. 8.
Like Abelar, she fought back with birdies on Nos. 10 and 13 but unlike the former, she stumbled with a bogey on the closing par-5 hole and ended up with a 35 for a 76 and a share of 78th.
Worse was Malixi, who came into the event exuding confidence but lost track of her game early after dropping two strokes right on the par-4 No. 10.
That wobbly start led to three straight bogeys from No. 11 and though she flourished with her short irons and birdied the two par-3s (Nos, 15 and 17), the ICTSI-backed shotmaker yielded another stroke on No. 16 and made the turn at 40.
Though she checked her slide at the front and didn’t drop a single shot, she also failed to gain any stroke, her even-par 37 and a 77 dropping her to joint 96th, two strokes below the projected cutoff line.
Earlier, Zhao, a native of Shenyang, China but now who lives in Irvine, California, played above her years, hit back-to-back birdies to mark her first USGA Championship stint, dominated the par-5 13th, came up with another back-to-back feats from No. 15 and holed out with another birdie on the 18th for a 30.
Though she cooled down a bit in her last nine holes, she stayed on top of a field that includes USGA champions, Curtis Cup team members and a slew of players that competed at the highest levels of the sport.
“I didn’t really have any expectations,” said Zhao, the second youngest in the field at 13 years and six months. “The course is really beautiful and I just tried to enjoy my round and not think about shooting low.”
“I know going into match play, it is a whole different game. Even if you’re the 64 seed you can still win,” said Zhao. “So, I try not to think ahead too much.”
But a host of others are under pressure to weigh their chances in a bid to salvage spots in the match play.