— Virginia Women's Golf (@UVAWomensGolf) May 23, 2022
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The No. 8 Virginia women’s team saved its best for last and that was just good enough to propel the Cavaliers into the final round of stroke play at the NCAA Championships in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The team’s four counting scorers played Grayhawk Golf Club’s par-5 18th hole at a combined four under par to make the 15-team cut for Monday’s final round of stroke play. The Cavaliers shot 10-over 298 to complete the third round tied for 13th place at 39-over 901.
The strong finish helped UVA to avoid a playoff that featured Wake Forest and South Carolina for the final spot in the fourth round. Those teams tied for 15th place at 903. The Gamecocks won the playoff to also advance to the fourth round
Virginia’s final three players on the course – Jennifer Cleary, Amanda Sambach and Beth Lillie – contributed to the strong finish. Cleary and Lillie both made birdie putts on 18, but Sambach one-upped her teammates by making an eagle from 70-yards out.
“I hit my drive into the fairway bunker and I hit a pitching wedge out to exactly 70 yards,” Sambach said. “I hit like a three-quarter 60 degree (wedge). It looked pretty good and went in for eagle. I saw it disappear.
“On 17, I asked Coach how the team was doing. She said we were close and might need a birdie or two. It left me speechless after I saw it go in.”
Her eagle capped off Sambach’s final round score of 71 and moved her up to 20th place in the stroke play standings at 5-over 221.
Head coach Ria Scott was not on the 18th hole when Sambach hit her dramatic shot.
“I absolutely heard it and was hoping those cheers were for us,” Scott said. “Amanda asked me coming off the 17th tee, ‘How we doing, Coach?’ I told her we were hanging in there but a couple of birdies would be nice. I guess that stuck.”
Playing behind Sambach, Lillie followed up with a close approach shot that gave her an eight-foot putt for her birdie. Lillie finished the round at 4-over 75 and enters the final round of stroke play tied for fifth place at 1-over 217. Stanford’s Rose Zhang, the nation’s top-ranked player, leads the field by seven shots at 9-under 207 after 54 holes.
“It means everything,” Lillie said about advancing to the final round of stroke play. “I love playing college golf because I love playing with my team. I know there was a circumstance where I could play as an individual, but I didn’t want it that way. I wanted to play with my team because that is when I play my best.”
— Virginia Women's Golf (@UVAWomensGolf) May 23, 2022
Last year Lillie placed ninth at the NCAA Championships, also held at Grayhawk Golf Club. She will attempt to be the first UVA player to post two top-10 finishes in a career at the national championships. Leah Wigger’s runner-up finish in 2005 is the best finish by a Cavalier at the event.
“It was a total team effort,” said Lillie of the team’s third-round. “Playing 18 four-under par for the four counting scores that is some serious guts that our team has always had, and it was cool we showed it today at the end.”
“That was a crazy finish,” Scott said. “I was really proud how they hung in there and fought to the very end. We’ve seen the value of one shot over and over this season. That reinforced itself again today with where we stand.”
Sophomores Jennifer Cleary and Rebecca Skoler both shot 76 during the third round while senior Riley Smyth, who also birdied the 18th hole, was UVA’s non-counter with a score of 81. Cleary is in 93rd place at 231 while Smyth was 118th at 237. Skoler subbed into the lineup for the third round.
The Cavaliers have their work cut out for them if they hope to advance past the fourth round of stroke play to be one of the final eight teams to advance to match play. LSU and San Jose State are currently tied for seventh place, 13 shots ahead of Virginia.
“I know we have a 12-shot deficit to overcome, so we need to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens,” Scott said. “That’s nothing this team has not done before. They’re no stranger to a comeback. I think it is within the realm of possibility to sneak into that top eight.”
Virginia will tee off starting at 10 a.m. from the first tee during the final round. The Cavaliers will be paired with Texas and South Carolina. Live scoring will be online at Golfstat.com. Golf Channel will cover live coverage of the fourth round starting at 5 p.m. ET.
Grayhawk Golf Club
Par 71, 6,340 yards
Third Round Results
1. Stanford 289-292-283-864
2. Oregon 297-288-288-873
3. Texas A&M 292-297-288-877
4. UCLA 295-291-292-878
5. Auburn 296-290-299-885
6. Florida State 296-295-296-887
7. LSU 296-291-301-888
7. San Jose State 307-296-285-888
9. USC 298-294-300-892
9. Georgia 303-291-298-892
11. Purdue 301-299-293-893
12. Arizona State 302-290-302-894
13. Texas 305-295-301-901
13. Virginia 304-299-298-901
15. South Carolina 306-300-297-903*
Top 15 Teams Advance to Fourth Round
16. Wake Forest 301-304-298-903
17. Mississippi State 299-306-300-905
18. Baylor 301-310-295-906
19. Oklahoma State 307-300-300-907
20. Michigan 301-310-300-911
21. TCU 300-301-311-912
21. Vanderbilt 308-306-300-911
23. Arkansas 307-305-301-913
24. Alabama 298-316-302-916
* Won tiebreaker playoff
1. Rose Zhang, Stanford 68-70-69-207
2. Jenny Bae, Georgia 76-71-67-214
2. Tze-Han Lin, Oregon 72-71-71-214
5. Beth Lillie 73-69-75-217
20. Amanda Sambach 74-76-71-221
93. Jennifer Cleary 77-78-76-231
118. Riley Smyth 80-76-81-237
na. Rebecca Skoler na-na-76-na
na. Celeste Valinho 83-82-na-na