By Paul Dodson, NAIA Media Coordinator
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- (Fourth Round Pairings | Individual Results | Team Results) Led by the current tournament leader Maria Paula Otero (E), the SCAD Savannah (Ga.) Bees increased their lead to 19 strokes during “moving day” of the 24th Annual NAIA Women’s Golf National Championship from PGA National (The Champions Course) (par 72, 5,875 yards).
“The four-under (by Paula Otero) was amazing and really helped the team’s score,” SCAD Savannah Head Coach Amanda Workman said. “I think we were a little nervous today. It is tough being in the position of playing with the lead (after two days) at the national tournament. It's a different kind of pressure. I thought they really settled in their round; finished well down the stretch, and put together a nice, very respectable team score. I think they handled themselves well and finished strong.”
The Bees shot a 15-over (303) on Thursday and are the only team to score a 306-or-lower in each of the first three rounds of this year’s championship. They entered the day with a four-stroke advantage over William Woods (Mo.). However, a four-under 68 by Paula Otero helped SCAD Savannah produce the double-digit lead.
“It was amazing,” Workman said. “Mentally, she (Maria Paula Otero) in a really good place right now. She’s hitting the ball well and is confident. Obviously, when you have a good start and make some birdies in your round, you’re going to feel like that. But, she actually started one-over through three, brought it even, made the turn under par, and then played well on the back. She settled into her round really nicely and played great.”
After bogeying hole three, Paula Otero strung together birdies on six, eight, and nine to enter the turn at two-under. She then rebounded from a bogey on hole 12 with birdies on 14, 16, and 18 for the lowest individual round of the tournament (-4). With her score, Paula Otero sits atop the leaderboard with an even 216 (75-73-68).
“I kept the same mentality as yesterday,” Paula Otero said. “I'm just doing my thing and I’m not going to let things that I can’t control affect me. We’ve been working really hard to get here and this is just a result of that hard work. I’m very confident going into tomorrow.”
SCAD Savannah’s Paula Otero was not the only student-athlete to post an under-par round. Keiser (Fla.)’s Michaela Fabiankova shot a 70 (-2) earlier in the day after birdieing her final two holes of the afternoon for the tournament’s first individual round under par. With her score, Fabiankova jumped up 32 spots to tie for eight heading into Friday’s action.
“I didn’t start well,” Fabiankova said. “Coach Debbie (Dove) helped me a lot. Her positive attitude turned things around for me and after the turn, my scores got a lot better. This is a tough course and takes some getting used to but, I think a lot of it is mental. Today, I was focused on the shots I needed to make and I think that was the difference.”
Fabianlova sits just outside the top five. Following Paula Otero is her teammate Paulina Camacho (74-77-75, 226), who shot a three-over 75 on Thursday and is 10-over (10 strokes off the lead) for the tournament. Sitting in third is Cumberlands (Ky.)’s Kaitlyn Riley (+11) (80-73-74, 227) followed by William Woods’ Katie Warren, William Carey (Miss.)’s Aleesha Smith, Dalton State (Ga.)’s Tia Teiniketo, and Keiser’s Kristine Kloda which are all tied for fourth at 13-over (229).
Trailing SCAD Savannah (300-306-303, 909) and William Woods (309-301-318, 928) on the team leaderboard is Keiser (315-321-300, 936). The Seahawks jumped up two spots on Thursday after posting a 300 (+12) on the day – tying this year’s single-round low (300 by SCAD Savannah during round one).
Rounding out the top five teams are Dalton State (329-310-301, 940) and Taylor (Ind.) (311-315-315, 941).
SCAD Savannah will head into the final round looking to become the first team since 2013 to claim both the team and individual championships (Oklahoma City, 1,224 / Jessica Schiele, Oklahoma City, 295).
“Honestly, I really think we will go into tomorrow more aggressive and more relaxed,” Workman said. “I feel like if there was any day that we were going to be nervous it was going to be today. You could see that in how we started. We’ve experienced all that you could on this course. We know what to expect. If we just stick to our game plan, we will be fine. That’s going to be the message going into tomorrow.”
The field was cut to the top 17 teams and top 40 individuals plus ties following Wednesday’s round.
For the second-straight year, Keiser and the Palm Beach County Sports Commission are serving as hosts for this year’s National Championship held at PGA National.
The final round gets underway Friday at 7:15 a.m. ET.