published: Wednesday, January 09, 2013
Popson sinks clincher
on 18 to take Harder
By DAN HOEHNE
SEBRING - Two recently missed short birdie putts were in the back of her mind.
Not to mention that this was a relatively new putter that Tennessee senior Erica Popson held in her hand as she sized up the remaining eight feet of the 18th hole.
But she wiped the bad memories away and the stroke stayed true for Popson to win the 58th Harder Hall Women's Invitational Sunday.
"I'd been struggling with my putter and started with a new one a couple of weeks ago," the Ridge Community High School grad said afterward. "I missed two short putts on 15 and 16, which was nerve wracking, but it definitely showed some spark on the last hole."
As did Popson herself as she made the turn onto the back nine one-shot back of 13-year old Mika Liu, who had held the lead since her opening-round 66 on Thursday.
Popson then seized the lead on the 11th hole when her birdie offset Liu's bogey.
The lead held, despite the two missed putts when the pair got to the par-5 17th.
Having laid up short of the water with her second shot, Liu stuck her approach to within two feet, all but assuring herself the birdie she would soon make.
"Lay up is not in my vocabulary," Popson said of the choice she had been faced with on the hole.
Her second shot found the green, though rolled onto the back fringe.
But a great lag putt put her just a couple of feet away to maintain the lead with a birdie.
And while the pressure might have been building heading onto the final hole, Liu had a good reason not to feel it.
"I didn't know the scores," she said. "I like to keep a silent mind so I try not to know the score and just stay focused on hitting a good shot."
Both were on the par-4 18th in two, with Liu's ball about twice the distance from the cup as Popson's.
But the braces-adorned smile soon flashed brightly as the 15-footer made its way toward and into the hole, forcing a potential tie and playoff hole.
Which Popson cleared from her mind and soon put to rest, sinking her putt for a final-round 68 for a 282 total and the one-stroke win.
Exciting as the chase and finish was, perhaps the highlight of the tournament came a little earlier Sunday when Sebring's Kendall Griffin aced the par-3 12th hole.
"It was 168 yards to a front pin and I hit my new Mizuno 3 hybrid," the 13-year old explained. "The pin was kind of tucked behind the left bunker.
"When I hit it and saw it flying I though it was gonna be close and then it just kept on rolling and that was when I though it might go in ," she continued. "And apparently it just rolled in, it didn't like hit the pin and go in. And I did see it go in!"
This is Griffin's second ever hole in one but, according to her, "this was my first hole in one in a tourney."
Having taken second place in last year's Second Flight, Griffin played well enough to stay in the Championship Flight this time around.
Her total score of 302 for the week was well off the lead for the title, but would have tied her for first in the First Flight and was 27 strokes better than a year ago.
Kelsey McDonald wound up third in the Championship Flight, with a four-day total of 285.
Ashlan Ramsey finished fourth at 286, Hannah Pietila fifth at 287, JiaXin Yang sixth at 288, Yueer Cindy Feng seventh at 289 and Ashleigh Albrecht eighth at 290.
Two days of less than ideal weather gave way to a nice Saturday, with light breezes and warm conditions, the potential for scoring was there on the third day of the 58th Harder Hall Women's Invitational.
Among the front runners, there was some scoring indeed, which only added to the drama heading into the final day.
Co-leaders Mika Liu and Erica Popson went back and forth between the front and back nine, with Popsen carding a 35 to Liu's 36 on the front to take a one-stroke lead.
But Liu made the turn and went for a one-under 35 on the back, while Popson fell two back with a 38.
Hannah Pietila, two back when the day began, made a push with dueling 35s to squeeze into second place, just one shot back of Liu heading into Sunday.
JiaXin Yang came in with a 71 and found herself three shots off the lead, while Ashlan Ramsey held an even par 72 to join her at one under and three back.
Kelsey McDonald also went for a one-under 71 and remained the four shots back that she started the day at.
Making the big run on the day was 2011 champion Ashleigh Albrecht, who started the day seven back and almost out of viable contending range.
But she solved her front nine dilemma, where she had carded a 40 and 41 on her first two days, coming into the turn with a 35.
And she carried that hot play over to the back where she sank an eagle putt on 17 that helped toward a 34 for a 69 on the day, inching her to within five shots and earning a spot in the second-to-last group on Sunday.
"It only took me what, two days to figure out that front nine," Albrecht said sardonically after her round. "But finally everything started clicking and I've gotten myself into the next-to-last group and within range."
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