Marriotts Ridge's Lee breaks through at girls golf Howard County championship

On the outside, Marriotts Ridge's Rachel Lee was smiling. On the inside, she was simply trying not to panic.

Her once three-shot lead on the back nine of the county championship tournament Tuesday at Hobbit's Glen had disappeared and she now found herself headed for a sudden-death playoff against three-time defending champion Bryana Nguyen of Atholton.

"I was walking around telling myself, 'just keep smiling, just keep smiling,' … I was forcing myself to smile even though everything was going wrong," Lee said. "I kept thinking back to sophomore year at states, where I gave up at the end, and I blew it for the team.

"I wasn't going to let myself give up again, no matter how bad it got. So I just smiled and told myself everything was going to be OK."

As it turned out, a little positive thinking went a long way. With a birdie on the first playoff hole, sinking a 10-foot putt from beneath hole, Lee ended up securing the first county championship title of her career.

"Being senior year this was my last chance to win a county title, so I think that made that putt extra special," Lee said. "That's probably one of the biggest shots I've ever hit … better for me actually than the putt I made to win districts last year."

Nguyen had her putt on the first extra hole lip out for birdie, spoiling a chance to extend the match. But, after playing her final five holes of regulation in 1-under par to get into the playoff, she had no regrets.

"It really came down to who was going to make the putt on that last hole," Nguyen said. "She made a really good putt and I just missed mine … I'm really happy for her. She's a great player and came through with a great putt."

Nguyen and Lee's total of 53 points (1-over par) through 18 holes, was a shot clear of Marriotts Ridge freshman Lauren Kim (52 points). Oakland Mills' Samyra Lewis (43) and Atholton's Avni Johnson (41) rounded out the top five individually.

In the team competition, Marriotts Ridge emerged victorious on the strength of Lee and Kim at the top on the way to 155 points. Atholton was second with 144.

Lee was on fire early, birding two of her first five holes to grab a quick four-shot lead. That cushion would end up carrying her through the majority of the round, as Nguyen trailed by at least two shots all the way until midway through the back nine.

It was there, though — on the par 4 fourth hole — that Nguyen made her big move. A chip-in for birdie from over the green, combined with a bogey by Lee, created a two-shot swing and a tie for first.

"The chip in on No. 4 definitely sparked something," Nguyen said. "It gave me the momentum I felt like I needed, because I was really beating myself up the whole day until that hole for all the shots I had given away."

After the two exchanged pars on the next two holes, Lee had a chance to win outright on the final hole. Her birdie putt, however, lipped out and the two went to extra holes.

Kim, who was playing in the group behind the leaders, had her chance at joining the playoff slip away when her approach into the final hole found the greenside bunker.

In the two-person playoff, both Lee and Nguyen hit good drives and stuck their approach shots to within 15-feet of the hole. Nguyen went first and missed, setting the stage for Lee's winning moment.

"I can't describe the feeling of seeing that ball go in the hole and hearing that sound of it falling in the cup," Lee said. "That's probably my favorite sound in the world."

Marriotts Ridge's victory in the team competition was extra special as well. Last year, the Mustangs had watched Atholton grab the title and the team's three seniors had a little redemption on their minds this time around.

"They had the mindset that they wanted to get that championship back and I really believe Lauren ended up being the missing link for us that helped us get it," Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs said. "These senior girls have had such a great four years and this was a perfect finish for them."

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