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By Steve Brandon/Portland Tribune/Oregon State junior survives nerves before large gallery at LPGA Cambia Portland Classic

PMG PHOTO: STEVE BRANDON - World No. 1 Jin Young Ko leads Oregon State junior Ellie Slama off the tee during Saturday's third round of the LPGA Cambia Portland Classic at Columbia Edgewater Country Club.

Arguably the biggest gallery Saturday at Columbia Edgewater Country Club followed the twosome that included the most dominant woman golfer in the world.

Some of the fans might even have been there to watch Jin Young Ko of South Korea.

A large percentage, however, were clad in some sort of orange and black and seemed more interested in her playing partner.

They applauded for Ko; they cheered for Ellie Slama, the Oregon State junior from South Salem High who has played an unlikely starring role in this year's LPGA Cambia Portland Classic.

Neither Ko nor Slama was on top of her game in the third round, and neither is in position to win the $1.3 million tournament — but you couldn't tell that from the number of people behind the ropes who watched Ko shoot par 72 and Slama finish with a 74.

The pride in what Slama has been able to accomplish this week and the support for her were evident. The gallery included her OSU coach, Dawn Shockley, and Beavers teammates, who made the drive from Corvallis.

"This is exciting," said Nicole Schroeder, a senior on the OSU women's golf team from Rocklin, California. "Ellie is really dedicated to golf. She loves it. On the course, she's very positive, always even keel."

"I'm not surprised she has been able to do this. She's super steady," Shockey said. "She's got a great head on her shoulders. She does an awesome job staying in the moment. She's also a phenomenal putter, so on a golf course like this, where the greens are really good, she can really thrive."

Shockley called Slama a "great representative" of Oregon State.

"She embodies everything we are. She takes school seriously (kinesiology major), has great sportsmanship, is very humble. … The team all wanted to come up here. It's really fun to see that come together."

Slama, who grew up also doing cross country, swimming and ballet and ran a half marathon in January in Turner, Oregon, did well just to get into the 144-player field and earn her first LPGA Tour event experience. Two spots were open in the 18-hole Monday qualifier; Slama fired a 4-under 68 to share medalist honors with 18-year-old rookie pro Yealimi Noh, whose 64 on Saturday gave her the lead by three strokes over Hannah Green of Australia.

Slama, from Salem Golf Club, showed she belonged with another 68 on Thursday. She came back Friday with a 69 to make the cut and be in a tie for 27th.

Her 36-hole score of 7-under 137 was the same as Ko's, and lo and behold, they wound up meeting for the first time on the first tee moments before teeing off at 11:55 a.m.

Ko arrived first, and Slama came to the tee box second, with an OSU entourage that resembled that following just behind a prize fighter entering the ring. The golfers and their caddies shook hands, struck their tee shots, and were off.

What an opportunity.

"I had some nerves on the first tee, with a lot of people watching, and playing with the No. 1 golfer in the world," Slama said. "It was exciting and nerve-racking at the same time."

Ko, who won two of women's golf's five major championships this year and has won five times since turning pro in 2018, was clearly the longer hitter of the two, and showed her abilities early, getting to 10-under with three birdies on the first seven holes. But the 2018 LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year, age 24,, missed some chances, too, and lost any momentum she had with a three-putt bogey on the par-3 eighth.

At the turn, Ko was 9-under and Slama had slipped to minus-5, making seven pars before bogeys on Nos. 8 and 9.

But Slama got sharper on the back nine. She birdied the 10th and 14th — and through 16 holes (52 overall), she and Ko were even, both 7-under.

Ko parred in, while Slama made two bogeys — one a terrific five, actually, on the par-4 17th, where she recovered after driving into the water. She got up and down from 65 yards and said "I will take that bogey any day."

Overall, "I played well again, I just didn't score as well," Slama said. "The course was a little firmer today, and the pin placements weren't easy. I was scrambling more and not putting quite as well."

On Friday night, when Slama was watching the OSU-Oklahoma State football game on TV at home in Salem with family and found out she would be paired with the world's No. 1 woman golfer, "her response was, 'that's really cool,'" said her mother Leilani Slama. "She doesn't really show nerves, that I see."

On Saturday, the golf course seemed to be more of a challenge than being in the midst of a superstar playing partner.

"I think I handled myself well and played as well as I could have," Slama said.

Ko has won more than $2.6 million on the LPGA Tour this year.

Slama is looking ahead to the 7:30 a.m. breakfast at Oregon State on Monday morning as the Beavers meet to kick off their 2019 fall season.

Slama said Ko was "super friendly, and her caddy was really nice, too." The two golfers chatted a little walking to their next shots. "We were just talking about how we started playing golf, and I asked her about her studies, because she was taking some college courses as well," Slama said. "We were just chatting, like most players do. She was very nice and fun to play with. She didn't make me feel any more nervous than I already was.

"Her game is great. It's pretty fun to watch. She's a great putter. I'll get to learn from this, and hopefully come out tomorrow and play better."

Slama will go into Sunday tied for 47th.

Her playing partner also is at 5-under and is another big name: Austin Ernst, who won the Portland tournament in 2014. The 27-year-old from Greenville, South Carolina, and LSU is ranked 44th in the world.

"I'll try to do the same thing -- play my game, have fun," Slama said, "and maybe go under-par again."

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