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Pierce Flips the Switch For Late Las Vegas Victory

Pierce Flips the Switch For Late Las Vegas Victory

Allen, Hokom tie for second place at first National Tour stop of 2018

Sunday, February 25, 2018 - 18:45

Paige Pierce eyes her line during the final round of the Las Vegas Challenge. Photo: Alyssa Van Lanen

HENDERSON, Nev. – A birdie from Paige Pierce there. A return from Catrina Allen there.

The Open Women’s leaderboard ping-ponged during the final round of the Las Vegas Challenge, with Allen and Pierce exchanging volleys through the first two thirds of the 8,582-foot Innova course. Neither player would yield, as Pierce erased some early out-of-bounds strokes with crushing drives and long putts while Allen went station to station, collecting pars remaining steady.

But as the holes ticked away, and Pierce piled up mistakes on a disastrous hole 14 sequence that found her landing on the OB green off the tee and sailing beyond the ropes on her approach, something flipped. Maybe it was the adrenaline, or the advice caddie Nate Perkins was dishing out, or a concoction of both. Either way, Pierce knew that, with a one-shot deficit and four holes to play, something had to give.

“That is about the time it switched on,” Pierce said. “I just knew coming down the stretch no more mistakes can be made.”

Quite the contrary, actually. Instead of simply avoiding errors, Pierce took control, unleashing a massive flex shot on the 459-foot 15th that left her eight feet from the basket. After Allen cleaned up her par, Pierce took more than just a tap-in birdie: She seized the momentum needed to earn her second consecutive Las Vegas victory.

Pierce’s final round 2-under par 59 brought her four-day total at the event to a 2-over par 244, netting her a three-shot win over Allen and Sarah Hokom, the latter of whom moved into a second-place tie with a 1-under par Sunday morning. Jennifer Allen finished the tournament with an 8-over par 250 to take fourth place, while Lisa Fajkus’s 10-over par 252 rounded out the top 5.

Though Pierce scuffled earlier in the round, she said she knew she had an advantage on the course’s back half: Her signature distance off the tee, which often times found her 50 to 75 feet further down the fairway than her cardmates.

“Absolutely, and that’s where those last four holes that I’m talking about come into play,” Pierce said. “I can get a stroke on every one of those. I just have to execute.”

That didn’t always come easily, but Allen encountered her own adversity during crunch time. First, Pierce ran for the basket with her second shot on the 765-foot 16th, which finds the pin perched atop a hill behind an OB golf green. After taking a moment to compose herself – she said she could feel how fast her heart was racing – she went long of the pin and had to pitch up for par to push with Allen, who played safe hyzer shots down the fairway.

Hole 17, though, is where Allen finally hit the wall – or, rather, the bushes. Her tee shot strayed right and into scraggly desert scrub brush, leaving her only escape shot as a patent-pending stance – a backhand with her back to the basket. The attempt failed to turn enough, though, and stalled out before floating out of bounds. Pierce’s drive, meanwhile, landed 75 feet short on the 507-footer and she was able to jump putt and take a par.

The resulting two-stroke swing effectively ended Allen’s run, but Pierce wouldn’t let herself breathe. Even after Allen sprayed her second shot on hole 18 out of bounds – she was playing with a blister on her index finger that had doubled in size since she first showed it off during round three – Pierce was not comfortable until the final putts dropped and she was tallying up her winning total.

“I’ve played so many tournament rounds that I’ve seen things change on the last putt,” Pierce said. “It’s wishful thinking to say, ‘Oh, when she threw that shot out of bounds on 18 you could [relax],’ but it’s not over by any means, especially with all the OB out here, the wind, the pressure, the competition. It’s just never over. It isn’t.”

Though Allen was disappointed in her finish – “I don’t ever really throw it straight right like that on 18,” she said with a laugh – she took plenty of positives from the event.

“I feel like I’ve lost like 50 feet in distance, but I was proud of myself for taking my medicine in places even though I know I normally would go for it,” Allen said. “And for having a steady head.”

Hokom’s move into second came by sticking to her risk-averse game plan and simply being able to convert pars. She said she knows she is going to be 100 feet behind Pierce on the fairway and that her upshot game is an essential component to success, and it showed on the stat sheet: She led the 26-player women’s field in scramble rate at 65 percent.

“I throw the easy shot because I can’t get to the birdie on a lot of them,” Hokom said. “When you throw an easy shot 95 percent of the time you don’t miss them very often.”

The rest of the division found a couple young players notch career-best National Tour finishes. Kona Panis’ 6th place showing bested her previous top outing (14th place at the 2017 Glass Blown Open), and Sai Ananda’s eighth-place tie outdid her 10th place standing at the 2017 Beaver State Fling. Panis, in particular, racked up strong statistical measures, coming in fourth place in circle 2 in regulation (51 percent), third place in circle 1 in regulation (28 percent), and second in fairway hits (58 percent).

Before players caravanned a short way to Arizona for this week’s Memorial Championship, Pierce was unsure of how she’d commemorate another in a long list of National Tour wins. But teammate Dustin Keegan was getting ready to celebrate his 32nd birthday, so Pierce was confident something would materialize.

“Maybe it gets a little joint celebration of this win, too,” she said.