The second round of the Guardian Championship wrapped up early in the morning on Sunday after play was suspended the previous day due to sunlight. The cut was made soon after, and the final 61 players in the field headed back out to the Senator Course to start their final rounds.
The final round ended like the previous two days, with Cydney Clanton holding onto the solo lead. The Auburn University alumna fired a 4-under 68 to take home her third career victory on the Epson Tour. Clanton is a long-time member of the LPGA Tour but was pushed back to dual status after her 2022 season. Her confidence returned on the tour she has been playing for so long; a T11 finish on the LPGA Tour last week put Clanton on the right path as she headed into this week's Epson Tour event, the Guardian Championship. Clanton put the best competitive round of her life together in her first round and was able to hunt down enough flag sticks over the next 36 holes to secure her fourth career professional win.
"I had a great week last week on the LPGA Tour, and that just kind of sent the confidence in the right direction," said Clanton. "I was just able to just come and execute this week, getting off to a really hot start, shooting a 9-under rounds, which is my career low. After that, I just kind of kept it going throughout the week and am just happy with how I played all week."
Down the stretch is where Clanton showed the sign of a true champion, making four birdies in her last six holes. Wang applied the pressure down the stretch but could not make enough birdies to keep up with the 34-year-old.
"I told my mom when I was coming down the stretch that I think I got to her heart rate, I was pretty juiced," said Clanton. "I hit a really big drive on 18 and hit about a full of a 58-degree as I can hit, so there was a lot of energy there. I just really leaned on my faith coming down the stretch and that is what I feel like really got me through."
As mentioned, Miranda Wang was the player who had the best chance to catch Clanton coming down the stretch. Wang also made four birdies in her last six holes, but a double bogey on her front nine and two more bogeys early on her front nine kept the rookie slightly off the pace of the veteran. The solo second-place finish for Wang was good enough to move her into the No. 11 spot in the Race for the Card with just three tournaments left to play.
"I made a crazy long putt on No. 17 to make birdie and made birdie on No. 18 as well," said Wang. "This is my first second-place finish. I have won before but have never gotten second before, and I feel pretty happy with it. Today was very up and down, but my putting was able to hold everything together throughout the round."
Michelle Zhang is another rookie who put on a show at Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail on Sunday afternoon. An early bogey from Zhang was the only mistake on the day, which was erased quickly with a birdie on her next hole. Afterward, Zhang would make six more birdies throughout the round to finish with a 6-under round of 66 and collect her best finish of the year. Zhang's tie for third moved the 18-year-old up 12 spots in the Race for the Card to No. 46 and only 11 spots away from playing herself in the LPGA Q-Series for 2023.
"I just played the wrong club into my second hole, which resulted in a bogey, and it was my only big mistake of the day," said Zhang. "I told myself it was okay; there is still plenty of holes to go, and made birdie on my next hole. After that, I just kept going with the momentum I had this week and just had a really good putting day. I am just really happy to finish top 5 because I really needed a couple of good weeks to play my way out of Stage II, so this is a good start."
Joining Zhang at 13-under is a group of five other players who round out the top of the leaderboard at the 2023 Guardian Championship.
Carley Cox (-13, T3) on eight-under final round:
“I holed out No. 6 which was very exciting and unexpected so that was a lot of fun. Yesterday, I just didn’t play my best, I missed a few short putts and sometimes that can jar you a little bit. I just tried to put that behind me and had a few putts drop early in my round today to get the momentum started. Then after that it was just playing my game and riding the momentum. It was just really fun today.”
Maria Torres (-11, T11) on only making two bogeys in her last 90 holes played at the Senator Course:
“I felt really good about my game this week, but it is very hard to defend a championship. You want to do what you did the year before, but I am just going to take this week as a positive. Hopefully I can keep this momentum going through the next few tournaments and finish strong. The chemistry I have with this course; I just love it so much. I wish I could play this course every week.”
Britney Yada (-9, T18) on raising $1,400 this week for the Maui Relief Fund:
“I would prefer no bogeys on the card, but I hit the ball much better this week than I have been. I was able to capitalize on a couple putts, but I know I can go lower. Either way it felt good to put three red numbers together. The birdies mean a little more now, in the back on my head I have ‘For Maui’ each time I have a birdie putt, so it’s a nice motivator.”