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May 24, 2012Every cliche in golf reinforces the notion. You play one shot at a time, one hole at a time, one round at a time.
But it had to be hard for the University of Alabama women's golf team on Thursday. As they reached the closing holes of the back nine, the Crimson Tide found itself holding a 15-stroke lead - more than two touchdowns, in more familiar Alabama parlance - in the NCAA Championship. A runaway, unlikely in such an event, seemed possible.
Even the elements seemed primed to cooperate.
"Actually, through 14 holes, we had a 15-shot lead and the wind had died down," Tide coach Mic Potter said. "I don't know if we were holding on a little too tight but they've got to realize and understand that you have to play the entire round."
In the figurative twinkling of an eye - the final four holes of the third round - the runaway was shifted into reverse. Par for the Tide's five golfers over the closing stretch was 80. Alabama shot a 93. The 15-shot lead that had seemed so promising was whittled down to a slim two strokes going into today's final round.
All is not lost, of course. Alabama still leads the event. But it will have to play the way it did on the first two days in order to win its first national championship in golf.
"If you had given us a two-shot lead going into the final round of the NCAA Championship, we would gladly have taken it," Potter said. "But if you let yourself start thinking about that too soon, this can happen. Maybe we needed to wake up and realize that.
"We do need to realize that no one plays four perfect days and I would rather have a round like this on the third day and not the fourth day. We still have a lead. We are still two shots better than everyone else."
Even the Tide's individual leader, Brooke Pancake, struggled during the closing holes, four-putting No. 15 on the Vanderbilt Legends course, then driving into the water on No. 16 en route to double bogey.
"Look, we just didn't pay a good round, any of us," Potter said. "Brooke struggled on those holes, but she came back and played 17 and 18 well, so she'll be ready to go."
It will be nerve-wracking, but there are few championship competitions that are not. The question today is whether Alabama will conquer those nerves, or succumb to them. The key will be putting Thursday's final four holes in the past.