Going into the final round at the Pacific 10 women's golf championships Wednesday at Tijeras Creek in Rancho Santa Margarita, Arizona Coach Rick LaRose couldn't decide which would be worse: the Wildcats blowing a 12-stroke lead or sophomore Jenna Daniels giving up a seven-shot advantage.
LaRose knew both were possible after a cold wind pushed into the area overnight, making the cliff-lined fairways and elevated tees on the back nine even more imposing.
He also knew Daniels, a sophomore from Bonita, had never been in contention in a collegiate golf tournament, and his best player, Marisa Baena, had been struggling through the first two rounds.
But those fears were finally put to rest midway through the final round. Arizona made the turn with its 12-stroke lead intact, and Daniels, although shooting four-over-par on the front nine, still had a five-shot lead over teammate Heather Graff.
Both margins held up on the treacherous back nine. Arizona, led by Baena's three-under 69, finished 16 shots better than Arizona State for the tournament and Daniels came in with a six-over 78, which placed her three shots ahead of Graff and another teammate, Khrissie Register, for the individual title.
"This is the same exact group that won it for us last year," LaRose said. "We needed Marisa to come back and pick us up a little and she did. She really took the heat off everyone else."
Daniels took some of the heat off herself early in the tournament by shooting a women's course record 69 in the opening round, then bettering that with a 68 on Tuesday.
But Daniels didn't look the same at the beginning of Wednesday's round. After making a birdie on the opening hole, she bogeyed No. 2, double-bogeyed No. 3, then capped off the front nine by three-putting No. 9 for another bogey.
Luckily, her nearest pursuers were not playing much better. Graff shot two-over on the front nine and was five shots back, and Arizona State freshman Grace Park, the top-ranked player in the nation, four-putted the ninth hole to fall six shots behind.
Daniels, who shot a five-under 31 on the back nine Tuesday, then helped herself by hitting her approach shot on No. 10 within three feet and sinking the birdie putt. She birdied No. 12 after another solid approach shot and held on despite making a six on the par-three 15th.
"I did struggle out there, but I was far enough ahead that I didn't pay attention to the other scores, except for my team's," Daniels said.
Coto de Caza's Kellee Booth shot 72, her best round of the tournament, and finished in fourth place.