Cassandra Kirkland of France came from a stroke behind to claim her first professional title at the Sanya Ladies Open in China.
The 28-year-old from Paris held off stiff opposition to post a final round 70 on a hot and breezy final day at Yalong Bay Golf Club.
She ended two strokes clear of fellow Frenchwoman Jade Schaeffer and England’s Holly Aitchison, with a further nine players a stroke back in a tie for fourth.
“It was totally unexpected because I’ve struggled so much this year and I didn’t have my 6-iron, so I guess I didn’t have any expectations this week and I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I didn’t feel stressed out there so it was really good,” said the sixth-season Ladies European Tour professional, whose previous best finish was fifth at the 2010 Hero Women’s Indian Open.
Thailand’s Numa Gulyanamitta started with a one stroke lead but Kirkland quickly claimed the advantage after two holes, when she birdied and Gulyanamitta put her second shot into the water.
Kirkland picked up her second shot at the par-three fifth hole making a tricky eight-foot putt to get to six under and was two strokes clear of the chasing pack at the turn.
However, after a bogey on hole 10, her lead was cut to one shot and then she was briefly joined in the lead by Schaeffer, who birdied 14, 15 and 16, only to drop a shot on 17.
When Kirkland holed her second shot for eagle on the 317-yard par-four 14th hole, hitting a full 53 degree sand wedge into the wind from 65 yards, she pulled three shots clear of the field.
“When I made that shot I was like, I think this is my day. I felt more confident of course,” said Kirkland. She bogeyed the 15th but was able to close with three solid pars, earning a first prize of €37,500 and a two-year exemption to the Ladies European Tour.
Kirkland moved from 90th to 45th on the ISPS Handa Order of Merit and when asked how she would celebrate her victory, she replied: “I’m going with a couple of friends to Shanghai tomorrow so maybe I will celebrate when I go home with my family and friends.”
Her playing partner, Aitchison, shot a 71 containing three birdies and two bogeys and said: “I had a quite frustrating day. I didn’t hole as many putts today. I played pretty solid, made a couple of mistakes, but that was expected in the wind.”
Schaeffer’s 69 included five birdies against two dropped shots but she was delighted. “I had three birdies in a row from the 14th and I know I dropped one on 17 but I am very happy because my goal was to concentrate on the tough holes and play the last three in level par, which I did,” said Schaeffer, who will caddie for her boyfriend Francois Calmels in European Tour Qualifying School next week.
Young professional Lin Xi Yu, 16, and 35-year-old Yue Xia Lu were the best Chinese players finishing in a share of fourth on three under par after final rounds of 71 and 69 respectively.
There shared fourth with Gulyanamitta (74), Becky Brewerton (69), Sarah Kemp (72), Yue Xia, Carlota Ciganda (71), Pernilla Lindberg (69), Patcharajutar Kongkrapan (70) and Beth Allen (71).
At the prize giving ceremony, Kirkland was driven up the fairway in a golf cart with the French flag flying above before she and caddies from Yalong Bay Golf Club released doves into the sky to symbolise the ‘friendship and freedom of golf.’
The Ladies European Tour now takes a three week break before heading to Gurgaon near Delhi for the Hero Women’s Indian Open, from November 30-December 2.