HYDE – In the days leading up to the Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association Championship, two-time defending champion Avery Rochester of Marquette was the overwhelming favorite to win again.

All tournament long, she lived up to the expectations and proved why she was the one to beat. The top-seeded golfer in the tournament claimed her third straight UPLGA title, defeating No. 2 seed Zoe Woodworth of Calumet, 3 and 2 in the championship match Tuesday afternoon at the Highland Golf Club.

“It feels great to have a ‘three-peat,’ but this was probably one of the hardest matches I played,” Rochester said. “Zoe’s a great golfer, but … it’s always hard to play a competitive match against one of your good friends. It’s hard to keep your tournament mindset and focus while you also want to be friendly to them. That was hard for me.”

In the beginning, it didn’t look too difficult for Rochester.

With Woodworth struggling at the start, Rochester quickly went 2-up. Both golfers struggled on the par-4 first hole as Rochester settled for bogey but Woodworth was unable to match her when her bogey putt lipped out.

On the par-4 second, Rochester sent her second shot onto the green, 10 feet from the hole. She two-putted for par as Woodworth already was laying four.

“I started off rough, so I was already down and it’s already tough to come back against her,” Woodworth said. “I kind of gave her a couple holes where I was on the green and I three-putted, or I dubbed a chip. I gave her a couple holes that were kind of thrown away.”

Once she settled down, Woodworth started to match Rochester shot for shot. Woodworth cut into Rochester’s lead by winning the par-3 fourth, making par for a 1-up deficit.

“After the first two holes, I was playing better, but it’s hard to gain two holes back when you’re playing a really good golfer,” Woodworth said.

Rochester pushed her lead back to 3-up after she birdied the par-5 ninth. Still, Woodworth was able to put pressure on the reigning champ.

On the par-4 11th, Rochester’s drive went left into a line of trees. Not being able to get a clear look at the green, she sent her second shot into trees on the right side of the green, forcing her to try to chip it low beneath the leaves and branches. It didn’t work. She overshot the green and her ball landed on the other side.

Woodworth took advantage with a drive in the fairway, sticking a 140-yard shot to within 12 feet of the hole, then two-putting to win the hole.

“I had a few errant tee shots and those are the holes that Zoe of course capitalized on,” Rochester said. “She saw that I made a mistake and put the ball where she needed to go. She won those holes, but then I made a few birdies and that’s where I won most of my holes.”

Following her mess on 11, Rochester rebounded by sending her drive straight down the fairway on the par-4 12th. With 75 yards separating her from the hole, she stuck her second shot eight feet above the hole. Rochester converted the birdie putt to get back to 3-up.

“That was actually a really big confidence boost, because that was my first birdie of the round,” Rochester said. “I knew that she just came back and won the previous hole and I knew I had to step it up and kick it into gear. That really helped with my confidence and with playing better.”

On the par-3 14th and par-4 15th, it was the same story. Rochester’s tee shot on 14 found the sand along the left side of the green, and she eventually made bogey. Meanwhile, Woodworth would go on and make par.

But after Rochester gave one hole away, she took it right back. Both golfers reached the 15th green in two, but Rochester made birdie by converting a 15-foot putt.

Rochester only needed a tie on the par-3 16th to clinch, and that she did as both players parred.

The two friends embraced afterwards, each sharing a hug and smiling.

Despite going away to compete collegiately in different states – Rochester at Columbia College in Missouri, Woodworth at Colorado Mesa University – both have remained friends.

“We’ve played together through high school and she stayed at my house last year when this tournament was at Wawonowin (Country Club in Champion),” Rochester said. “We’ve played in a three-women scramble together and we played in the Michigan Junior Am(ateur) together.”

In the morning semifinals, Rochester and Woodworth each won 3 and 2. Rochester defeated No. 5-seeded Lori Shea of Gladstone, while Woodworth topped No. 3 JoAnn Poncino of Pine Grove.

“I feel so good,” Poncino said after her round. “Lori and I, for the old geezers, held our own. I’m so proud of both of us.”

Shea felt similarly.

“I think I played a real good game today,” Shea said. “Both 10 and 11 got me two holes down. At the turn (after nine holes) I was even with her, so I was proud with that.

“Avery’s a great young player. She has a lot of years ahead of her.”

In other flights, Nancy Osier of Gogebic defeated Lisa LaCasse of Gladstone to take the President’s flight.

Cathy Shamion of Ontonagon won the first flight after taking care of Karen McCorkle of Gladstone; Jean Constantini of Pine Grove took the second flight, beating Heidi Olsen of Oak Crest; and Linda Richard of The Crossings in Sault Ste. Marie was victorious over Jamie Schaut of Oak Crest in the third flight.

In a battle of Wawonowin golfers in the fourth flight, Peggy Koski prevailed over Patricia Roberts; in the fifth flight, Hilary Melin of the Highland beat out Miriam Dannenmuller of The Crossings; and in the sixth flight, Lisa Leskanic of Marquette edged Diane Woodworth of Calumet.