A two-under-par 70 saw Leona Maguire climb to T16 in the ISPS HANDA World Invitational at Galgorm Castle, but American Alexa Pano celebrated her 19th birthday in style by birdieing the third playoff hole to see of first Esther Henseleit and finally Gabriella Cowley.
Birdies had been a problem for Maguire in the early rounds as she went 73, 75 and 71, but she made in Sunday’s finale as she shot a best-of-the-week 70 to close out the event. Two bogeys and a double prohibited any final-round charge, however, and she had to settle for a tie for 16th and now turns her attention to the KPMG Women’s Irish Open at Dromoland Castle in 10 day’s time.
Stephanie Meadow recovered from a horror start that saw her double bogey the first and drop another stroke at the third and battled her way back to level-par for the day and two-over for the tournament to sign off tied for 27th.
It was a birthday to remember for Pano, and a dream ending to a week that she began without clothing or clubs as her luggage went AWOL in transit.
After rounds of 76-70-69, Pano caught fire in the final round with a six-under 66 that included nine birdies in total and back-to-back birdies to finish which brought her to eight-under. The quality of play down the stretch was incredible from the eventual three playoff participants with Cowley rolling in an eagle putt on the last and Henseleit birdieing three of the final four holes to join Pano in the playoff.
As the trio headed back down 18, American Pano, who turns 19 today, and Cowley both made birdie and they’d head back to the tee for a head-to-head showdown.
Despite her tee shot ending up in the trees, Pano made a par on the second playoff hole while Cowley missed her birdie putt as they both headed back to the 18th tee again.
On the third playoff hole, Pano made the green in two and was able to two-putt for a birdie to win her maiden title on the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour (LET).
“I’ve kind of been saying that I really wanted to win this event because it’s on my birthday,” said a brimming Pano after holing the winning putt. “My best friend can attest it’s been for like two months.
“It feels so surreal that it’s happened. It’s been a little bit crazy because I didn’t have my clothes and clubs earlier in the week, but it’s all worth it.
“It just feels so surreal right now to have my dad on the bag as well. I can’t actually process that that just happened.”