No Clear-Cut Favorite in Womens NCAA Finals

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NCAAUPPER ARLINGTON, Ohio -- Washington's Paige Mackenzie was already one of the players to watch in the 25th NCAA women's golf championships.
 
That was even before she started thinking she might get extra help from someone who could be a distant relative.
 
The tournament opens Tuesday at Ohio State's Scarlet Course, originally designed by Augusta National architect Alister MacKenzie 70 years ago and given a $4.2 million makeover by Jack Nicklaus over the past year.
 
'Maybe that's a good omen,' Mackenzie said of the tie with MacKenzie, the late Scot with the nearly identical last name.
 
In a tight field in both the team and individual competitions, it seems everyone is looking for an edge.
 
'I'm not sure I'd call it wide open,' said coach Dan Brooks of defending champion Duke. 'Among the top teams, though, there is considerable parity.'
 
During the regular season, Duke, UCLA, Arizona State and Auburn were considered the top four teams. At last week's regionals, Southern California upended Duke, and Purdue shocked UCLA, while Tennessee took the East title over LSU, California, Florida State, Arizona State and Auburn.
 
'We haven't seen one team dominating all season,' UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth said. 'So it's going to be a catfight at the top.'
 
The Blue Devils edged Forsyth's Bruins by five strokes a year ago in Sunriver, Ore., for their third title in seven years. The year before, the Bruins beat Duke by three strokes.
 
If the team race is up for grabs, there are any number of players who could end up on top of the individual competition.
 
Auburn coach Kim Evans said unpredictability is the nature of the event.
 
'It's a different week, it's a different animal,' she said. 'It's like a tour school. ... Every team's probably won a tournament. Every team's probably got an All-American on their team. Every team's got a couple of kids that are right on the cusp of playing great. Anything can happen.'
 
The field of 24 teams and six individuals from non-qualifying teams will be tested on a layout that has never hosted an event in its current configuration. Nicklaus built new tees, cut down old trees, reconfigured the greens and added deep bunkers that have considerably more square feet than most of the participants' off-campus apartments.
 
When he played an exhibition round at Scarlet on Saturday, Nicklaus said it remains to be seen if the course will cause problems for players accustomed to going low.
 
'It depends on where they play from,' said Nicklaus, who accepted only a $1 fee to rework the course he played as a collegian. 'It's an issue of length, which is what it is for most golf courses today. If length is not an issue, they'll do fine.'
 
Scarlet is set up at 6,203 yards and a par of 72. This is the fourth time that the course has hosted the women's NCAA championships.
 
'Patience is going to be a big key,' Washington's Mackenzie said. 'It's obviously the best field of the year.'
 
This could be the year when someone -- a team or an individual -- comes out of nowhere to steal a title.
 
'There'll be plenty of surprises, I guarantee you,' Evans said.