Tee Time Almost Here for Tigers

Columbus, Ohio--What has been one of Auburn's most successful athletic teams in recent years begins competition at the NCAA Women's Golf Championship on Tuesday after an impressive regular season.

Coach Kim Evans' Tigers are ranked fourth nationally and feature one of the nation's top players in senior Maria Martinez, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, who helped the Tigers to back-to-back SEC championships.

Playing on The Scarlet Course, which was reopened on Saturday after undergoing renovation this spring, offers a challenging venue for the national title competition, Evans notes.

Jack Nicklaus, who played on the course while a college star at Ohio State, donated $4 million of renovations to The Scarlet Course, which was designed 70 years ago by Alister MacKenzie, the same architect who designed Augusta National, home of The Masters.

"I think for us to be successful is, one, we can't freeze up," the coach says. "We have really got to go play. The other thing is this course demands a lot of respect. Your entire game has got to be there. If you have a weakness, it will show up pretty quickly."

The par 72 course is playing at 6,203 yards for the 24-team field. Each time had to qualify at one of three regionals and 20 of the nation's Top 25 teams as ranked by Golfweek are in the field.

The Tigers have won five tournaments this season and have reached nationals 10 of the last 11 seasons. Auburn will tee off on Tuesday morning beginning at 8 a.m. EDT in groupings with No. 12 Texas A&M and No. 14 Texas A&M and will have afternoon tee times on Wednesday.

Martinez, who finished in a tie for 16th at last year's nationals where the Tigers finished third as a team, is ranked as the No. 3 player in the country by Golfweek behind Amanda Blumenherst of Duke and Irene Cho of Southern Cal.

Maria Martinez won the SEC title earlier this year.

Auburn junior Nicole Hage, who finished fifth at the 2005 NCAA Championship, is ranked 31st nationally this year.

The Tigers also return two other players who competed in the nationals last season. Abigale Schepperle, a sophomore this season, was 68th in 2005 while Margaret Shirley, who is also a sophomore, was 98th. Rounding out the lineup for the Tigers is junior Jessica Lovell.

"I think the course is in incredible shape," Lovell says. "The short game is definitely going to be a big thing this week. The rough is pretty high around the greens so you have to hit a solid shot."

The Tigers arrived in Columbus on Saturday and played practice rounds on Sunday and Monday.

"We have to play a fairly complete game and learn a little more about the golf course each day," says Evans, who says that par, or just under par, will likely be a good score at The Scarlet Course through the four rounds of competition.

"We have had a couple of good days of practice," Evans says. "It was a little cooler weather Sunday and Monday, but it warmed up decently on Monday on mid-day," Evans says. "It is a real championship golf course, without a doubt. It is long, it is hard and every shot seems a little uphill and it has deep, deep fairway bunkers. It is a good test."

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