It was a birthday to remember for Alexa Pano as she won the ISPS HANDA World Invitational Presented by AVIV Clinics in a dramatic playoff.
After rounds of 76-70-69-66, Pano ended the tournament with a total of eight-under-par and found herself in a playoff alongside Germany’s Esther Henseleit and England’s Gabriella Cowley.
The American, who turns 19 today, headed back down 18 and made a birdie on the first playoff hole, as did Cowley to send them back to the tee.
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 the LPGA Tour rookie.
“My best friend can contest 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.”
Pano fired a round of 66 (-6) on day four at Galgorm to put herself in contention for the win, making three bogeys and nine birdies including two in her final two holes.
England’s Cowley carded a round of 70 (-2) on the final day competition and rolled in an eagle putt on the last to secure her place in the playoff.
The 27-year-old had the opportunity to take the win on the second playoff hole when she had a five-foot birdie putt, but unfortunately, she missed it and Pano triumphed on the next hole.
While two-time LET winner Henseleit produced a second consecutive round of 69 (-3) which included three birdies in her last four holes to put herself in the playoff.
However, the German was only able to make a par on the first playoff hole and ended the week in a tie for second place alongside Cowley.
Henseleit said: “I’m pretty happy with how my game is at the moment and how it’s been the last couple months. I feel really good on the course. I had a lot of fun playing in contention the last two days, so, yeah, hopefully, we’ll be back.”
America’s Ryann O’Toole finished in fourth place on seven-under-par after a final round of 70 (-2) in Northern Ireland.
Germany’s Olivia Cowan fired a final round of 68 (-4) to end the week in fifth place and secure back-to-back top-10 finishes.
“I’m very pleased,” said the LET winner. “I played really nicely today. I played good the last two days. I just had a poor finish yesterday, but I just tried to stay positive and keep going today.
“My new mindset has been going well, I haven’t gotten angry yet, so I’m just sticking to that. I think good golf will follow. Last week gave me a lot of confidence as well, heading into the week I knew my game was well. I’m just excited to play in the next few events.”
Spain’s Azahara Muñoz shot her round of the week – a 66 (-6) – to climb up the leaderboard as she finished in a share of sixth place alongside India’s Diksha Dagar.
“I have just been playing super great all week, hitting really good shots, but my putter has been kind of cold,” said the Spaniard.
“So, I just started, right from the get-go I hit the 3-wood on a par-5 to maybe ten feet, so I actually two-putted for birdie. After that, I made a few nice putts and today was really nice. I played solid and finally saw some putts drop in.
“I knew I really had to go low today. Such a shame I didn’t get the last birdie, but I gave myself a chance. I’ve loved playing here. It’s been really tough and actually, I’m really proud of myself for how well I played in these conditions because I got a tough draw as well. I’m just happy that I’m hitting the ball really well, so hopefully I can get the putter going.”
While Dagar explained: “Yesterday I could have done better and because of yesterday’s experience I played aggressively today. One club extra because of yesterday’s weather. I feel so excited. I wanted to do it and I want to catch it and I wanted to make it a little bit hard for the leaders as well.”
Peiyun Chien of Chinese Taipei ended the week in eighth place on four-under-par with Switzerland’s Kim Metraux one shot further back in ninth.
While Thailand’s Wichanee Meechai, Finland’s Noora Komulainen and Wales’ Chloe Williams are all in a tie for tenth place.
In the 2023 Race to Costa del Sol, France’s Celine Boutier continues to lead the way with 1,725.38 with Spain’s Ana Peláez Trivino in second (1,487.20) and India’s Aditi Ashok in third (1,309.19).
Sweden’s Linn Grant is fourth with 1,276.28 points and India’s Diksha Dagar has reduced the gap in fifth and now has 1,237.34 points with Czechia’s Klara Davidson Spilkova in sixth (10,66.46).
Germany’s Cowan moves up to seventh place and now has 1,062.47 points with Sweden’s Johanna Gustavsson in eighth, England’s Cara Gainer in ninth and Charley Hull in tenth.
Cowley jumps from 30th to 11th place in the 2023 standings and now has 920.27 points to her name.