Zhang birdies into contention and return to Augusta National

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Rose Zhang resumed her second round on Friday morning and made bogey at Champions Retreat, falling one shot below the cut line at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. She responded like the No. 1 amateur in women’s golf, with birdies on her last three holes.

Not only was Zhang among the 30 players who qualified for the final round at Augusta National, the former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion is only three shots out of the lead.

“I needed to stay composed out here,” Zhang said. “The atmosphere when you’re on the cut line is very thick. I really had to stay in the moment and really just try to execute.”

Zhang then joined the rest of the 60-player field on a 30-minute shuttle ride to the home of the Masters. Augusta National was filled Friday afternoon with players and their caddies — some of them parents — dressed in traditional white coveralls.

Everyone gets a practice round. Only the top 30 advance to Saturday’s final round, a group that includes Paula Schulz-Hanssen of Germany. She was among four players who had to go extra holes for the final spot in the final round, advancing with a par on the fourth playoff hole — on her 19th birthday, no less.

“That’s a great present for myself,” she said.

For all the fatigue from a tournament delayed 7 1/2 hours on Thursday because of heavy rain, there was no shortage of excitement.

The first part was trying to contend for what already is among the most elite tournaments for female amateurs. What followed was playing Augusta National, some for the first time.

Beatrice Wallin (71) and Latanna Stone (72) were tied for the 36-hole lead at even-par 144, one shot ahead of Avery Amari, the star-in-waiting at USC; Emma Spitz at UCLA; and Amalie Leth-Nissen of Denmark.

Two tough rounds in three days at Champions Retreat left a leaderboard so bunched that everyone with a tee time at Augusta National on Saturday is still in the mix. Only six shots separated the top from the bottom.

“To think that there’s 30 people, 30 of the best players in the world, and five off the lead, I think anybody’s in this tournament,” Rachel Heck said.

Much like Zhang, Heck had reason to worry. She is another emerging star, a sophomore at Stanford who last year won six times in one semester.

The No. 3 amateur among women, Heck had a pair of double bogeys and was 5 over for her round — 6 over for the tournament — when play was halted on Thursday by darkness. She birdied two of her last three holes and avoided the 4-for-1 playoff with one shot to spare.

“There was a lot of emotions out there. My heart is still beating really fast,” she said.

Zhang and Heck have competed at Augusta National before, and Friday afternoon was a time to remember the best lines and angles, and the places to avoid.

Stone, one of the co-leaders, never played Augusta National until Friday. Wallin, a senior at Florida State, made it to the final round the last two times at the Augusta Women’s Amateur. What has she learned?

“That it’s a tough course, a lot can happen,” Wallin said. “I’m just going to take shot by shot and just enjoy it because it’s going to be my last time playing it and playing this event,” Wallin said. “So I’m just going to go out there with a big smile.”

The group two shots out of the lead included Anna Davis, the 16-year-old from San Diego County who finished her second round in the dark Thursday and was able to spend all of Friday soaking up the vibes and color of Augusta National.

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