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Posted April 4, 2019, 7:51 pm
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Wake Forest's Jennifer Kupcho holds 36-hole lead at Augusta National Women's Amateur

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    Jennifer Kupcho tees off on No. 3 during the second round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Ga., Thursday April 4, 2019. [CHRIS THELEN/SPECIAL]

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    Jennifer Kupcho, left, gets a hug from Olivia Mehaffey after they finished their round at the Augusta National Women's Amateur at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Ga., Thursday April 4, 2019. [MICHAEL HOLAHAN/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Jennifer Kupcho has earned top billing on the marquee at the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Champions Retreat Golf Club and Maria Fassi is also playing a starring role, but they weren’t the only ones smiling after their rounds Thursday.

So were 28 other players in the starting field of 72 who made the cut and will play the final round at Augusta National Golf Club.

Kupcho, a Wake Forest senior, continued to have her way at Champions Retreat, firing 1-under-par 71 in the second round to move to 5-under 139 for the 36 holes. The long-hitting Fassi, her good friend and a senior from the University of Arkansas, is one shot back after a pair of 70s.

PHOTOS: Thursday's second round

Tied for third place at 141 are Pimnipa Panthong (71-70), Sierra Brooks (71-70) and Kaitlyn Papp (72-69).

Kupcho and Fassi will lead the charge into the final round at Augusta National Golf Club, but not just yet.

That historic round won’t take place until Saturday, when the course will play host to its first-ever women’s competition. There is a practice round scheduled for today there.

“It will nice to have a little break and have some quiet time,” Fassi said of the start-stop-start format of the event. “I’m exhausted from these two rounds.”

It took a while to determine the 30 players advancing to Augusta National. There was an 11-way tie for 21st place, meaning a sudden-death playoff was needed to determine the final 10 players.

After nine of them made pars on the first sudden-death hole, the par-4 No. 10, Alessia Nobilio and Ainhoa Olarra, who made bogeys, had to play it off for the final spot. Olarra, a former South Carolina player, birdied the second playoff hole, the par-3 17th with a 25-foot putt to earn the final spot. 

Kupcho, who started her second round on No. 10, wasn’t as sharp Thursday as she had been Wednesday, and even suffered her first bogey of the tournament. She did have three birdies and once again avoided 3-putts, bringing her streak to 101 holes, dating back to her previous college events.

“I started out really strong, was hitting the ball really well and on the back nine just kind of came around and hit a few bad shots and lost my confidence a little bit,” she said.

Fassi had a roller-coaster round with five birdies, five bogeys and an eagle, on the par-5 14th, where she holed out a 40-yard chip shot.

Kupcho and Fassi bonded during the fall’s LPGA Q Series, where they both earned their LPGA Tour cards for 2019. They decided to return to school for their final semesters instead of turning pro.

They’ll have another bonding experience when they play in the final pairing Saturday at Augusta National, going off at 10:20 a.m.

“I think we’ll have a lot of fun,” Kupcho said. “We both are good friends, so I think it will be a lot of fun, and we’re both good at golf, really good at golf, so I think we’ll make a lot of birdies, and it will be pretty fun to watch us.”

“I’ll be excited, especially with Jennifer,” Fassi said. “It’s going to be, like I said before, it’s going to be a birdie-fest out there. It’s going to be a really fun one to watch.”

Fassi, who is from Pachuca, Mexico, was among the players at the unveiling of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur trophy during a news conference in New York late last month. Now, it's within her grasp.

“I think it’s beautiful, and I know how much it means and how much work there’s been behind the making of that trophy,” Fassi said. “They have certainly done an amazing job of making sure there’s everything, every single little detail is taken care of and I mean, of course, winning it would be a dream. Being able to compete out here and to play against the best in the world and to come out on top would be an amazing thing."

"I guess I’ll be a part of history, and even more so than we are already."