Monday, March 8, 2021
Austin Ernst used four consecutive birdies on her opening nine in the final round of the LPGA Drive On Championship presented by Volvik to open a six-stroke lead, then withstood the challenging conditions coming in to capture her third LPGA Tour title Sunday at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club.
With nine holes left to play, Ernst looked like Secretariat cruising down the stretch in the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths as she jumped from 13 under par to 17 under, while Jennifer Kupcho lost one stroke and was at 11 under. Ernst had birdied holes 4 through 7, while Kupcho bogeyed No. 4, to create the 6-hole spread.
But the margin shrunk to three in a hurry when Ernst bogeyed 12 (No. 13 at Augusta) and 13 (the Road Hole at St. Andrew's) to drop back to 15 under. Kupcho, meanwhile, birdied 10 and 12 to get to 13 under and give hope to her supporters sitting behind the 18th green and braving the stiff, cold winds which wreaked havoc on the field all afternoon.
There were just four players able to solve the tricky conditions and break 70, led by a 68 by Yealimi Noh, who still only wound up tied for 44th at 2 over par. In Gee Chun, Lexi Thompson and Yu Liu all shot 69, but only Chun's made much of a difference - she tied for 4th at 7 under and earned $78,125. Lexi took home just $17,226 for her tie for 19th.
Kupcho's back-nine surge was short-lived when she bogeyed 14 and double bogeyed 15, and it was basically all over as Ernst made par on the final five holes. She settled for a check of $139,217.
“Going wire-to-wire is really cool," said Ernst. "I told [my fiancé] Jason last night it would be really cool to win wire-to-wire, so glad I didn't jinx myself. To be in the heat of it all week and to be able to perform the way I did, I think it’s a testament that I can do this week in and week out. If I have a little belief in myself, this is what I can do.”
The $225,000 winner’s share moves Ernst over the $4 million threshold ($4,127,272). She also becomes the third American to win (in as many events) on the LPGA Tour in 2021, joining Jessica Korda at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and Nelly Korda at Gainbridge LPGA.
. Jenny Coleman fired a 1-under par 71 to sit in solo third at 8-under par overall and In Gee Chun signed a 3-under 69 card with four birdies to shoot -7. Playing out of the final grouping, Albane Valenzuela rounded out the top-five players at 6-under and went 1-over par for the day.
Coleman fired a 72-hole career-best total of 280 which bested her previous mark of 283, which she shot in the 2017 Volvik Championship at Travis Pointe Country Club. The solo third was also good for a career-best finish. She collected $100,992.
BRYSON BACK IN WINNER'S CIRCLE - Bryson DeChambeau was one of just three players to break par under difficult conditions at Bay Hill yesterday, and the PGA Tour's biggest hitter captured the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one stroke over veteran Lee Westwood. DeChambeau shot 1-under-71 in the finale for 11-under 277, while Westwood's 1-over 73 left him at 278.
The only two others to break par were Andrew Putnam, who tied for fourth and Matt Wallace, who tied for 18th - both shot 71.
Corey Conners and Jordan Spieth, who had visions of victory teeing off, both imploded. Conners shot 74 for 280 and finished third, while Spieth closed with 75 for 282 and tied for fourth.
Bryson moved from 12th to first in the FedEx Cup point standings, while Westwood jumped from 160th to 58th.
The Tour moves to Ponte Vedra this week for the Players Championship, which was cancelled in 2020 after the first round, and 48 of the top 50 players in the world are entered. Hideki Matsuyama was sitting in the clubhouse with a 63 when play was called last year.
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