HONG KONG (Reuters) - Gaby Lopez was unable to snare a second ace on China’s Hainan island on Saturday but rock solid golf in windy conditions gave the Mexican a one-shot victory at the Blue Bay LPGA for her first title on the elite women’s tour.
Lopez celebrated her 25th birthday with a hole-in-one at the par-three 17th during the third round on Friday to help her to a one-shot lead over world number one Ariya Jutanugarn going into the final day.
The world number 136 hit four back-nine birdies in a one-over-par 73 that proved enough to keep her Thai playing partner at arm’s length as she finished on eight-under 280 for the $2.1 million tournament.
Lopez finally showed some nerves with two bogeys to finish, including a three-putt on the 72nd green, but was soon enjoying the shower of sparkling drinks from her fellow players that is traditional for maiden winners.
“It wasn’t an easy day, it was tough,” said Lopez, the first Mexican winner on the tour since Lorena Ochoa claimed the last of her 27 titles in 2009.
“I wasn’t going to sit and protect my lead, I was going to go out and give it my all and if it didn’t go my way, then okay.”
Ariya also shot a 73 for second place ahead of France’s Celine Boutier, who celebrated her 25th birthday with a flawless six-birdie 66 for third place on six-under at the Jian Lake Blue Bay layout.
World number two Park Sung-hyun of South Korea, who also played with Lopez and Ariya, endured a miserable front nine and could only manage a 74 for a share of seventh with Ariya’s older sister Moriya (71).
Lopez, an alumnus of the University of Arkansas golf programme, was the second first-time winner on the LPGA’s Asian swing after Nelly Korda claimed her maiden title in Taiwan two weeks ago.
Defending champion Shanshan Feng of China finally fired in the fourth round with a 68 to finish ninth, seven shots behind Lopez.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney at Sydney; Editing by John O'Brien