Lady Vol golf team coasts to Mercedes Championships win

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (SUBMITTED) -- Different course. Same result. The Tennessee Lady Vol golf team completed the repeat sweep at the 2010 Mercedes-Benz Women’s Collegiate Championships on Sunday at Holston Hills Country Club, grabbing the team and individual titles at its home tournament for the second straight season.

A year ago, the Lady Vols won the event by 19 strokes and Nathalie Mansson claimed medalist honors after five playoff holes at Fox Den Country Club in Farragut, Tenn. This year, UT captured the title by 20 shots and sophomore Erica Popson won her first collegiate title on the first playoff hole after tying with Ole Miss junior Natalie Gleadall through 54 holes. Both players carded tournament-record 9-under 207 totals.

Tennessee becomes the third team to repeat in the 14-year history of the tournament, joining Ohio State (2003-04) and Duke (1997-98).

Among the numerous records broken at the tournament were the all-time Lady Vol records for team and individual tournament score. UT’s 15-under 849 total shattered the old Tennessee-best of 856, set at the 2006 Dr. Donnis Thompson, while Popson’s 207 total and 9-under score in relation to par were also Big Orange bests.

“This is a course we play day in, and day out, but the team has never competed here for an actual tournament,” Lady Vol head coach Judi Pavon said. “You never know what to expect. I’m really pleased with what happened. They know how to handle the pressure and focus on their golf games.”

The Lady Vols got off to a fast start on day one, firing an 8-under 280 at the par-72, 6,302-yard Donald Ross-designed course. UT never looked back in driving off with the victory, outdistancing second-place Arkansas (869) by a Mercedes-Benz record margin. Paced by third-place individual Martina Gauvier’s final day 65, Kent State finished third (874). Tennessee set the tournament record for lowest score by 16 strokes.

The individual battle was much closer, as Popson headed into the final round with a two-stroke advantage. Gleadall fired a final-round 69 to push to 9-under-par about 30 minutes before Popson walked up the 18th green with the same score.

UT’s second-year star had a sloping 12-footer for birdie on the par-five final hole, but it sped past the cup and she settled for par to force the playoff.

The Davenport, Fla., native would not be denied, however, in the second individual playoff of her young career. After falling to Vanderbilt’s Marina Alex with the SEC Championship on the line on the first playoff hole in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last April, Popson buried a downhill 15-footer on the initial playoff hole, No. 10, on Sunday. Gleadall putted first, coming up just a few inches short on her birdie attempt before tapping in for par.

“It feels really good,” Popson said. “I tied for first at SEC’s last year, but lost in a playoff. It always hurts to lose, but you always learn a lot. I took what I learned from that and used it in this playoff to help me win. I wanted to win and I made really a good putt. I’m really excited right now.”

Popson, who finished the weekend with two eagles and 11 birdies, bettered her Lady Vol 54-hole total record of 208 set at the conference championships. She also set a new Tennessee mark for score in relation to par at 9-under, breaking the old mark of 8-below held by Marci Turner (2006) and Katharina Larsson (1994).

“Her experience at the SEC’s last year served her well in her playoff today,” Pavon said. “She hit a great putt in the playoff. It was terrific.”

Sophomore Sara Monberg placed fourth with an impressive 7-under 209 total, the third-lowest score in Lady Vol history. She followed rounds of 70 and a career-best 68 with a 71 on Sunday. The Juelsminde, Denmark, native was second in the tournament in birdies with 14.

Mansson, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz champion, tied for 19th with a 3-over 219 total after rounds of 69, 73 and a final-day 77.

Senior Lauren Spurlock fired a season-best 1-under 71 on Sunday. She totaled a 4-over 220, her best 54-hole score ever. She tied for 23rd for her best finish as a Lady Vol.

Freshman Chessey Thomas also tied for 23rd at 4-over 220, carding her first career even-par or better round on the final day (72).

Senior Rebecca Watson and freshman Kaitlyn Rohrback, playing as individuals, both fired 1-under 71s. For Watson, her final round was her lowest 18-hole total ever, as she tied for 62nd with a 231 (+15). Rohrback carded a 220 (+4) to tie for 23rd at the first tournament of her career.

Tennessee’s other individual, sophomore Leigh Henderson carded a final-round 75 and tied for 45th with a 227 (+11) total.

“As a senior, this weekend was really great,” Spurlock said. “We just came out here, did what we had to do and played great. It was fun out there. The weather was great. We took it one shot at a time and grabbed another victory.”

Lady Vol Scores
1. Erica Popson 67-69-71=207@!$ (-9)
4. Sara Monberg 70-68-71=209@ (-7)
T19. Nathalie Mansson 69-73-77=219 (+3)
T23. Chessey Thomas 74-74-72=220@ (+4)
T23. Lauren Spurlock 75-74-71=220@ (+4)
T23. Kaitlyn Rohrback* 74-75-71=220@ (+4)
T45. Leigh Henderson* 77-75-75=227@ (+11)
T62. Rebecca Watson* 82-78-71=231 (+15)

1. Tennessee 280-284-285=849!$ (-15)
*Played round as an individual
@ Career-best total
$ Tennessee record for 54-hole total.
! Mercedes-Benz record

Courtesy: Lady Vol sports information

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