Thanks to a fortunate break when a dire weather forecast proved inaccurate, spectators and officials of last week’s Symetra Tour stop at Atlanta National were rewarded with an exciting finish that resulted in a 4-way playoff that required five extra holes.
Spain’s Maria Parra emerged as the tournament champion, making an eagle on the par-5 ninth hole at Atlanta National (the 18th for the tournament) after she and two of her competitors had birdied the hole three times previously in the playoff.
Joining Parra in the playoff were Ireland’s Leona Maguire, Floridian Madison Pressel and Ssu-Chia Cheng of Taiwan. Maguire and Pressel matched Parra’s three birdies to start the playoff and all three parred the 10th hole (tournament No. 1) before the playoff returned to the ninth. Pressel bogeyed the hole, Maguire birdied it for the fourth straight time, and Parra grabbed her first victory on the tour when she made eagle.
Parra’s eagle capped a long day that began with several players out on the course early to complete the rain-delayed second round. Play was suspended Friday afternoon by approaching severe weather, but most of the players with p.m. tee times were able to complete their second rounds before darkness halted play for the day.
Entering the final round, Mexico’s Ingrid Gutierrez Nunez held the lead at 8-under 136 after a second round 66, the low score of the tournament. Spain’s Marta Sanz Barrio, who played her college golf at Auburn, was second at 138 followed by Texan Lindsey McCurdy, a former SMU golfer, at 139
Nunez, a Symetra rookie, fell back with a final round 77 after holding a share of the lead on the back nine. Her chances ended when she made double bogey on the difficult par-4 tournament 17th and she finished tied for 13th at 213, three shots out of the playoff. Barrio dropped out of contention early with a double bogey at the watery par-3 third, but came back to birdie the 18th and tie for fifth at 211. McCurdy birdied the uphill par-4 14th to move into am logjam at the top at 6-under, but double-bogeyed the short par-3 15th and bogeyed the next two holes to drop into a tie for 20th at 214.
With the lead trio all struggling, a large group of contenders emerged, with as many as seven players sharing the lead at one point late in the final round.
Maguire, a four-year, first team All-American at Duke who turned pro last year, started the day seven shots off the lead. She closed with a 67 and was the first player to post 6-under 210, playing her last 11 holes in 5-under.
Cheng, who played the LPGA Tour in 2016 and ’17 and has competed on the Symetra Tour the last two seasons, was next to get into the clubhouse at 6-under after a 68. She was 5-under her last 10 holes, overcoming a double bogey at the par-4 sixth, which was converted from a par 5 for the tournamwent. She got into the playoff with birdies at 17 and 18.
Parra and Pressel both shot 70 in the final round. Parra, who played the LPGA Tour at the age of 19 in 2017, had six birdies in an up-and-down round, and joined the playoff with a birdie at the 18th. Pressel, the younger sister of LPGA star Morgan Pressel, joined her fellow playoff qualifiers with a birdie at the 18th, but fell short in an attempt to win on the Symetra Tour for the first time since her rookie season in 2014. This is her fifth season on the tour.
Barrio was one of four players to tie for fifth at 211. Fellow former Auburn golfer Cydney Clanton, who has played six seasons on the LPGA Tour and scored her second career Symetra victory earlier this season, shot a final round 70 to finish one shot out of the playoff. Tour veteran Nontaya Srisawang also came up one shot short of the playoff, parring her last nine holes in succession for a 71.
The one player who will look back at the tournament as an opportunity squandered is recent Stanford golfer Casey Danielson, who is in her second season on the Symetra Tour. Birdies at 14 and 17, two of the most difficult holes on the course, moved Danielson into a tie for the lead at 6-under, but she bogeyed the par-5 18th, a hole almost all the other contenders birdied the final day. Danielson shot 70 on Saturday.
With her victory, Parra earned $22,500 from the purse of $150,000 and moved up to third on the money list behind No. 1 Julieta Granada and No. 2 Maguire, who has placed fifth or better in her last four starts including a victory in her previous appearance last month in California. Clanton, who won the prior Symetra event in Arkansas, is fifth on the money list after making only two starts in 2019, with Cheng moving up to eighth in earnings and Pressel to ninth.
The top finisher among the Georgia contingent in the IOA Invitational was Ji Eun Baik, who grew up in Newnan and is living in Cumming after playing her college golf at Mississippi State. Baik, who won the 2018 Georgia Women’s Open as a rookie pro, tied for 30th at even par 216 with scores of 73-68-75. Baik, who got into the field as an alternate, was in line for a top-20 finish or better, but made bogey on two of her last three holes, including the par-5 18th. It was just her second start this season.
Also making the cut was Jessica Welch of Thomasville, who opened with scores of 73-71 before falling back with a final round 78. Welch, who played the last two seasons on the Symetra Tour, was making her first start of 2019, receiving an exemption into the field.
Three golfers with Georgia ties missed the cut by one shot at 147. Newnan’s Jean Reynolds, a Symetra veteran who came into the tournament 10th in earnings with a pair of top-10 finishes, shot 73-74 to miss her first cut in six 2019 starts.
Duluth resident Min Seo Kwak, who has played on both the LPGA and Symetra Tours, also came into the tournament in the top 10 after a recent third place finish in Arkansas, her second top 10 of the season. She shot 74-73 at Atlanta National, which was hosting the Symetra Tour for the fourth straight year.
Recent UGA golfer Jillian Hollis, in her second season on the Symetra Tour, won an event earlier this season in California and lost only one spot on the money list, dropping from third to fourth. Kwak is now 15th and Reynolds 19th. Like Kwak, Hollis shot 74-73 at Atlanta National to miss the cut by one.
Harang Lee, who played with Hollis and Reynolds the first two days in all-Georgia Bulldog pairing, shot 75-73—148 to miss the cut by two.
Like Welch, Kayla Jones received an exemption into the tournament and was making her first Symetra Tour start. Jones, who played her high school golf at nearby Milton and completed her college career at Florida State in 2018, posted scores of 76-80—156.
Like Baik, Amira Alexander was a late entrant into the field as an alternate. The Alpharetta resident shot 75-81—156 and was making her sixth Symetra start over the past three seasons. She began her college career at Georgia before transferring to Kent State for her senior season.
Bailey Tardy, a Peachtree Corners resident and UGA teammate of Hollis, is a rookie on the Symetra Tour this season, turning pro midway through her senior season in Athens. She has been juggling school and her first professional season so far this season, but can concentrate on golf after receiving her degree last Friday after playing the second round of the tournament earlier that day.
Tardy was 2-over par after 10 holes in the first round when play was halted and shot 1-under 71 the next day after being 3-under after 13 holes. But she struggled after play resumed late Thursday afternoon, and missed the cut with scores of 80-71—151.
(To read more about Tardy’s first season as a pro, see Mike Blum’s story on the Gwinnett Daily Post web site).