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Arkansas, Texas lead as Blessings already a behemoth

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Entering the NCAA Women’s Championship, many predicted that Blessings Golf Club would flex its muscles and challenge college golf’s best unlike anything most of them had seen before.

Through 18 holes, they may have underestimated the behemoth of a golf course.

Blessings, a par-73 layout listed at 6,397 yards, played to a scoring average of 80.03 in Friday’s opening round. Just four players broke par, with Arizona senior Bianca Pagdanganan leading after a 4-under 69. Arkansas and Texas each shot 10 over to grab a share of the team lead, eight shots clear of eighth place Arizona State.

“We survived a little bit better than everyone else out there," Texas head coach Ryan Murphy said.

“The hardest challenge here is to be patient, don’t give up and fight to make birdies ‘til the end,” said Arizona State freshman Alessandra Fanali, who shot 1-over 74 for a share of fifth.

It was hardly a birdie-fest in the opening round at Blessings, and it’s not likely to get any easier. (There is even some rain expected this weekend.)

Stanford and reigning national champion Arizona are tied for third at 12 over, followed by Duke at 13 over, top-ranked USC at 14 over and Wake Forest at 17 over. Arizona’s Haley Moore, Texas’ Emilee Hoffman and Arkansas’ Maria Fassi are tied for second individually at 1 under.

"Today was tough," Fassi said. "I don’t think we’ve had rounds lately with the amount of wind we had today."

Since the women’s championship moved to the same venue as the men, in 2015, three of the four winning stroke-play scores have been over par. That first year at Concession, USC shot 40 over to earn the top seed in match play. Two years later at Rich Harvest Farms, the lowest score was 33 over as the stroke play was reduced to 54 holes.

If Friday was any indication, Blessings has the potential to be higher than both.