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Pierce Rebounds With Hot Round

Paige Pierce shot up the leaderboard Friday morning. Photo: Alyssa Van Lanen

HENDERSON, Nev. – Though we’re mere miles from the famed Strip here at the Las Vegas Challenge, seven is rarely a lucky number on the course. In racking up that many out-of-bounds throws during her 938-rated opening round Thursday, Paige Pierce didn’t look like the high roller she normally is and instead found herself in an eight-shot hole.

It didn’t take long, though, for the natural order to be restored.

Pierce bounced back at Wildhorse Golf Club Friday morning with a 4-under par 57 hot round at the Innova course, a 1021-rated showing that moved her 13 spots up the leaderboard and into second place at the tournament’s midway point. The performance featured only one early penalty stroke, bringing her total to a 2-over par 121. It’s the second time in 2018 that Pierce has recorded that same round rating.

“I knew it was possible – I knew it would take a lot, for sure,” Pierce said of her rapid ascent in the standings. “I was thinking somewhere on the bottom of the lead card to top of second card was definitely feasible.”

Catrina Allen remained in first place after a 2-over par 63 performance Friday took her total to an even-par 119, while Kona Panis and Sarah Hokom tossed matching 1-over par 62s to land in third place with 4-over par totals. They share that spot with 21-year-old Sai Ananda, whose 6-over par 61 Friday dropped her out of the lead.

The key to Pierce’s rebound effort was her approach accuracy, as she took advantage of her distance on the 8,582-foot Innova track and rarely left herself with anything more than a 15-foot putt. She said it marked a distinct difference from her showing at the Disc Golf Values course during round one, where the shorter holes found her “toning down” her shots.

“Over here [on the Innova course] it’s throwing as hard as you can on every hole, and I think that’s what my strength is,” Pierce said. “When I’m throwing harder I feel more confident.” It showed on hole 15, a 459-foot par 3 where she flexed a Dynamic Discs Felon for extra distance, and on the stat sheet: Pierce’s 56 percent fairway hit rate was 15 points better than her Thursday performance.

“Honestly I’m just ready to correct everything I did wrong the first day,” Pierce said. “I was not good, and I don’t want that to deter any positive thoughts. I’m just gonna go at it fresh and throw aggressively when I feel the confidence."

Allen started strong after her 7:56 a.m. tee time, waking up with a 50-foot birdie putt on the opening hole. She added 30-footers on holes 5 and 6 and was sitting at 4-under par through the front nine, but said she went cold after the pace slowed with backups through the course’s second half. The lack of momentum found her two-putting five times, but she vowed to not let the performance alter her mental game.

“I feel fine – just frustrating to start that way and finish so poorly, that’s all,” Allen said. “We kinda got to a point where we were waiting, and that’s where the wheels fell off. So maybe just try to stay focused on the backups tomorrow.”

Panis is coming off a third-place showing at last week’s Wintertime Open, and the 19-year old attributed her solid start to the 2018 season to an emphasis on offseason training. In addition to her work on the course, she also started a fitness regimen crafted by Hannah McBeth that helped her focus on core strength and conditioning.

“I’ve been practicing almost every day, whether it’s field work or putting or just playing a round, and then working out has helped a lot,” Panis said. “…Just playing disc golf 24/7.”

Hokom, meanwhile, said an unplanned visit by her brother, who lives in Hawaii but happened to be in Las Vegas at the same time, aided her performance.

“I hung out with my brother and made a few poor choices [Thursday night], but it turns out it’s actually kind of relaxing,” she said. “It was great. Had some quality time last night and I felt loose.”

She’ll need that same attitude as play moves to the Adidas Terrex course on Saturday. At 9,074 feet it is the longest on the complex, and Hokom said that she would be playing station-to-station golf since she does not have the distance for that type of track: “It’s just about minimizing the damage and not taking risks, because there’s no point.”

With a cut looming after round three, the rest of the top 10 will need to keep the same mindset. Jessica Weese (+5) dropped to sixth place after piling up four OB strokes on Friday, while Lisa Fajkus sits in seventh at 6-over. Jennifer Allen (+7), Melody Waibel (+10), Rebecca Cox, and Madison Walker (+11) are all above the line heading into Terrex.

After recovering so strongly from her initial offering Thursday, Pierce was grateful for some early season kinks and their ability to help her diagnose her game.

“There were a few definitely big errors, but it was good for me to see starting the season what I need to work on,” Pierce said. “I guess it was a blessing in disguise.”

The Open Women’s lead card tackles Terrex at 7:58 a.m. local time, with live scoring and statistics available on UDisc Live.

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