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Defending Champ Hangs On

By Brendan Tierney, USGA

South Hadley, Mass. -- Hilary Lunke entered Friday's second round at the Orchards Golf Club optimistic. It paid off.

The defending champion finished at 4-over 146, or one shot under the cut line, giving her a chance to play the weekend.

Hilary Lunke held on to make it into the weekend with a 4-over 146 showing. (USGA)

Coming off an impressive back nine on Thursday where she birdied four holes en route to a 1-over 72, Lunke looked to continue the streak on Friday. However, some missed birdie putts and wetter conditions pushed her down the scoreboard.

"I felt the two rounds were very similar," said Lunke. "I wasn't hitting the ball all that solid, but I was hitting it straight both days. If I could have rolled in a few more birdie putts like I did yesterday, my score would have been higher."

Slower course conditions resulting from intermittent storms Thursday afternoon and night did not help either. Lunke, accurate but not long off the tee and who prefers the hard and fast conditions that she saw on Thursday, felt handcuffed in the second round.

"Shots were holding a lot more [Friday]," she said. "I felt it played long."

In order to get back in the race for a second straight title, she said, "I need to hit more crisp iron shots and keep putting well - keep rolling the putter like I am."

Grouped with Kelly Robbins and Angela Stanford, the same players who were in the 18-hole playoff group last year at Pumpkin Ridge, Lunke wasn't the only one affected.

Robbins, who shot 4-under in the second round to enter the weekend at 1 under, had an eagle on the 15th hole that was a direct result of the soggy conditions.

"I had 115 yards to the front and I just gripped an 8-iron and tried to hit it about 110 yards," said Robbins. "And I hit it a good 10 yards too many, right into the bank and, God willing, it rained last night."

The ball popped up off the bank and rolled into the hole, helping her get under par for the championship.

The other member of the trio that played for the 2003 title, Stanford, couldn't produce the same magic as last year. A 2-over round put her at 7-over total and missing the cut.

While Lunke hasn't experienced the same excitement thus far, she did take away quite a bit from the first two rounds.

"Your mind can start racing when you're up at the tee and they announce you as the defending champion," she said. "You have to just take it one shot at a time, which everyone says but is so hard to do. After your round you often say 'I should've done this or this,' but all you can do is what's in front of you."

And with her solid play on Thursday and Friday, Lunke will have at least two more days where she is announced as the defending Women's Open champion.