After firing off a 67, and scoring her first career ace, five-year Epson Tour veteran Jillian Hollis has a chokehold on the top spot of the leaderboard heading into the final round of the 2023 Florida’s Natural Charity Classic.
She shaped the 167-yard shot into the wind with her 6-iron on the par-3 17th, and as soon as it hit the green, the whole gallery knew it had a chance. Hollis said she thought it was a pretty good shot and was hoping it would either get close or go into the hole. After she hit the shot, everyone watched the ball bounce onto the green, closing in on the hole and eventually dropping into the cup.
“I thought it was going to take flight or something because I’ve never had a hole-in-one before,” Hollis said. “It was really exciting. I had a great group I was playing with too — they were cheering for me as well. I hit a good shot, especially to that pin today and to that hole with the wind coming off of the left pretty hard. I was really happy that I hit a good shot — I was kind of watching it and it just went in. It was cool.”
The former Georgia Bulldog had a strong start to her round, as she made birdies on three of her first five holes. She then made two bogeys and two birdies to make the turn in 33 strokes.
Hollis had to grind on the back nine but put herself in position to make par when she needed and add more birdies to her scorecard. Her one blip on the back was a bogey on the par-5 11th, but after that she buckled down, grinding out par saves and landing a birdie on the 14th along with the ace.
“I think I have just been grinding it out — if the wind takes your ball a little bit you have to stay focused. I think the pars are more important than the birdies right now,” Hollis said. “If you miss the green, getting up and down — I’m pretty calm on the golf course, so keeping that calmness and trying to get up and down.”
Shooting a 68-67 in the first two rounds is quite the start for Hollis, but she isn’t treating the final round any differently.
“It’s just going to be another day of golf for me. I’m going to go out and stay patient and present — focused on hitting good golf shots,” Hollis said. “It would be cool to shoot another good round tomorrow. Whatever happens, I’m going to learn a lot from it, so it’ll be really good and I’m excited.”
With the win, Hollis would earn $30,000 and become No.1 on the Epson Tour Official Money List. This would be her first win since August of 2022 at the Circling Raven Championship.
Two shots off the lead in solo second is Yaeeun Hong, who also shot a 67 on the day to get to 7-under overall. She made a 50-foot eagle putt on the par-5 9th to close out her round, giving her four birdies, one eagle and one bogey on the day. She said that she stayed patient throughout the round. That patience paid off for Hong on her back nine as she was able to gain strokes and confidently move up the leaderboard.
“I saw the leaderboard and how there was a little bit of a gap, but I finished with an eagle, so I got closer to the leader,” Hong said. “It gives me more confidence for tomorrow.”
Sitting in solo third, at -5 is Kiira Riihijarvi. The Finn, who graduated from the Epson Tour in 2022, carded six birdies on the day.
Seventy players made the cut at +4, including LPGA Tour member Lauren Stephenson, amateurs Gianna Clemente and Bailey Shoemaker and 2023 Epson Tour rookie Natasha Andrea Oon.
Lauren Stephenson (-3, T8) on her final round strategy:
“I’m going to have to go low with Jillian playing a different course than everyone. Knowing that you’re going to have to make a lot of birdies will make it more fun — going for pins and trying to shoot as low as you can when you’re that far behind.”
Heather Lin (-4, T4) on making it to the final round in her first Epson Tour event:
“I was excited to get the season started and just looking forward to playing professionally for a long time — it’s my first event on Epson. You see a lot of good players out here and the atmosphere is different — you have a caddy on your bag. Me and my coach were talking about taking it all in and take it as an experience and just try my best."
Yaeeun Hong (-7, 2nd) on what she must do in the final round
“Last year and two years ago I really didn’t enjoy my game — I just kept pushing myself inside the golf course. In the last two rounds, though, I really enjoyed it. I stayed patience and strong. I got to keep going tomorrow to close strong.”