Final Round Recap
May 23, 2022 by Patrick Aubyrn in News, Recap with 0 comments
STOCKTON, Cal. — In sports, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
Paige Pierce weathered a fierce challenge from Natalie Ryan to defend her OTB Open title on Sunday at Swenson Park Golf Course. After going 10-under par in nearly identical scoring conditions on moving day and building a nine-stroke lead, the trophy appeared to be hers already. But Pierce only managed to score even par in the final round and with two holes to play found herself tied with a surging Ryan. After an errant drive from her challenger on hole 17, Pierce seized the moment and threw her best drive of the day. Under the added pressure, Ryan threw her ensuing shot out of bounds, which initiated a series of miscues that ended her valiant run.
The win is Pierce’s second on the Pro Tour this season. She also won the only major contested so far in 2022, the inaugural Champions Cup. Natalie Ryan’s second-place finish is her career-best at an Elite Series tournament. It is also the best finish at a DGPT event by an openly transgender athlete1.
The day began auspiciously for Ryan when she opened her round with a turkey against a single birdie for Pierce. But the defending champ had strokes to give, and after both women played the next four holes 1-under-par, things still seemed to be going as planned for Pierce. A two-stroke swing in Ryan’s favor on hole 9 trimmed the deficit to five and raised eyebrows.
There, as is her wont, Pierce opted to run a dicey C2 birdie putt. Her floaty bid glanced off the left chains, skimmed the cage, and slid out of bounds into the pond 10 feet behind the pin. She would settle for bogey. Putting from the right side of the green, Ryan converted her edge-of-circle death putt for birdie, pumping her fist before her putter even hit chains.
Her celebration was short-lived. Both women bungled great drives on hole 10, but Ryan’s mistakes cost her more. Throwing first with a more direct line to the pin, Pierce shanked her approach wide left but safely in C2. Ryan was on the left side of the fairway and tried to throw a hyzer under the low hanging tree limbs but got hung up in the branches short of the green. Her third throw should have been a relatively simple chip shot, but she hung it out a fraction too wide and found the greenside pond. Pierce missed her birdie bid low off the cage and Ryan knocked down the bogey putt, but the OB miscue increased Pierce’s lead to six strokes with eight holes to play.
Ryan bounced back after the debacle on hole 10 with a vengeance, carding four consecutive birdies on holes 11-14 against a bogey and three pars for Pierce. The five-stroke swing felt like it happened in a blink of an eye, perhaps because that stretch of holes features the only trio of consecutive par 3s at Swenson Park.
Pierce was rattled. While the lead card waited for the chase card to throw their approach shots and putt out on hole 15, the DGN drone hovered above the five-time world champion alone on the fairway collecting her thoughts and absent-mindedly taking a practice swings as she watched the chase card across the water.
Though hole 15 is the shortest par 4 on the course, clocking in just under 500 feet, it is fiendishly tricky. The fairway is lined with OB, and the pin is perched atop a small knoll that slopes away on the backside toward a water hazard.
As the chase card finished clearing the green, Ryan unleashed a monster drive, nearly throwing into the second card as they exited the hole and settling just inside of C2. Whether it was on account of the tailwind or her occasional penchant to leak drives left, Pierce found the OB thicket on the left side of the fairway just over the pond. She pitched up and knocked down a short par putt. Ryan, the last to approach, lobbed a soft putt into the bullseye, close enough for one of her trademark left-handed tap-ins.
Both women parred hole 16, wanting nothing to do with their long circle 2 putts, and moved onto the final test: Hole 17 played as the second hardest hole on Sunday. The field averaged +0.62 strokes over par and 40% of competitors carded bogey or worse. Hole 18 was the hardest hole overall, yielding an average score +0.85 strokes over par over all three rounds. It was anyone’s ballgame.
Teeing off second on 17, Ryan found herself out of position for the third straight day. Perceiving a window of opportunity, Pierce stepped up next and blasted her best drive of the day, a low scorcher center cut.
Now Ryan had a decision to make as she checked the remaining distance to the pin with her rangefinder: whether to play for birdie go for the green or to lay up and settle for par. You win or lose on your own terms, and Ryan opted to roll the dice. She came up two feet short. After leaving her 24-footer for bogey low, Pierce reclaimed a two-stroke lead.
Another picture perfect drive from Pierce on 18 sealed the deal as Ryan found an early tree and skipped the ropes on her second, finally ending her comeback attempt for good.
Inaccuracy off the tee and approaching the green, coupled with an 0/9 performance from C2, is what set Pierce back during the final round. On Saturday, she found circle 1 in regulation nine times and only missed circle 2 in regulation three times; however, on Sunday she never achieved better than circle 2 in regulation after the fifth hole.
“I was talking with Simon [Lizotte] last night, and we were both kind of sharing the sentiment of, like, that while we’re both out there playing it’s so hard to think about golfing. You’re always thinking about what people are saying. It gets to us as competitors . . . Lift the people around you up.” ~Paige Pierce
“I know I can do it now. That was three fantastic rounds of golf for me, and I know I can do it again. That’s definitely the takeaway here.” ~Natalie Ryan
Round Three Highlights