Stanford might still be the significant NCAA women’s title favorite.
Down two of its usual starters for the foreseeable future, the new-look Cardinal, led by megastar Rose Zhang, swept the titles Tuesday at the Juli Inkster Collegiate. Zhang birdied three of her last four holes to win her ninth career college tournament by two shots, tying Andrea Lee's school record, as Stanford beat Pac-12 foe USC by five shots.
Five of Zhang’s college victories have come this season as the sophomore is a heavy frontrunner to win her second straight Annika Award, which is given to the player of the year in Division I women’s golf. She shot 5-under 67 in the final round to finish at 11 under, a couple ahead of San Jose State’s Kajsa Arewfjall.
Sadie Englemann (T-3) and Megha Ganne (T-9) added top-10 finishes for Stanford, which for the third straight event was without both Brooke Seay (concussion) and Rachel Heck (shoulder). Heck hasn’t played since Stanford’s home event in the fall as she’s been battling thoracic outlet syndrome.
Heck told GolfChannel.com last week that she was unsure if she could return to action this spring while Stanford head coach Anne Walker added that Heck's return was “up in the air.” She already pulled out of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in a few weeks. And then on Monday, Heck underwent surgery to remove her top rib.
“I’ll be back out on the course as soon as I can,” Heck said Tuesday after a successful procedure, “but in the meantime, I’ll be focusing on getting healthy and strong again.”
With Stanford missing two key pieces, it's brought some other top teams into the NCAA title conversation, including Wake Forest, which has won four times this season (five times if you count its six-shot win over Stanford in the stroke-play portion of the Stephens Cup); Oregon, a winner over the Cardinal at Palos Verdes earlier this spring; and even LSU, which captured the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate last week.
But Walker said last week that her team still had plenty of fight, and on Tuesday the top-ranked Cardinal proved it. They aren't going anywhere.