England’s Meghan MacLaren has made a triumphant return to Coffs Harbour with a thrilling one-shot win in a gripping final round of the Australian Women’s Classic at the Bonville Golf Resort.
On a day when the weather gods played kindly after two days of rain, it wasn’t an easy ride for the overnight leader, as she stumbled over her opening holes.
Bogeys at the 4th and 6th evaporated her lead and with several players making their move, the tournament was up for grabs.
Sweden’s Maja Stark was the first to charge and she wasted no time stamping her authority on the event with a birdie on the first.
Three more birdies followed at the 5th, 7th and 9th, and as the leading groups turned for home, Stark was eight under and the lead was hers alone.
Sadly for the Swede, her run came to a grinding halt with a cruel double-bogey on the 13th. After flubbing a greenside chip and following up with putter issues, her grasp on the lead vanished as quickly.
Back-to-back birdies soon afterwards kept her in the hunt until the end, but when MacLaren grabbed a vital birdie on the 15th, the task was suddenly more daunting.
MacLaren knew she was ready to taste success with the clutch birdie, and from there it was an exercise in composure for the new champion.
“I knew Maja had got to eight under and I was on seven at that point. I made a good birdie on 14 and 15 and I assumed the lead might be nine at that point,” MacLaren said.
“I kind of knew it was in my hands.”
Playing alongside Stark, Queensland amateur Sarah Hammett also went quietly about her business. Unfazed by the occasion, the shy 15-year-old birdied the 4th, 6th, and 7th to get to six under and put herself right in the mix, then the 12th and 14th to momentarily nab the lead, too.
But her chances evaporated, sadly, over the closing holes, and with the pressure mounting, the teenager rifled one into the trees on the last, ruining her chance to force a playoff.
Another Queenslander teenager, Justice Bosio, also had her chances late. Playing two groups in front of Hammett, the 18-year-old amateur sizzled around the front nine in just 32 strokes and was within touching distance of the lead for much of the back nine.
Sadly, a couple of ill-timed bogeys on the uphill par four 13th and gettable 15th cruelled her chances.
Several other players also put their hands up through the round, including Forster-Tuncurry hope Sarah Kemp and England’s Hannah Burke.
Kemp started the day just a few too many back. Her four under par 68 final round left her at five-under par for the rain-shortened 54 hole tournament.
Despite a withering final round which included an eagle, six birdies and just one bogey, Burke – like Kemp – turned out to be just that touch too far back, and despite carding a seven-under 65, she too eventually fell short, three shots behind MacLaren.
“I’m stunned with the level of support I have here and it was such an amazing reaction when that putt dropped on the last,” said the 27-year-old who now has three Ladies European Tour wins on New South Wales soil, including the state open championship at nearby Coffs Harbour Golf Club.
“I wasn’t that worried about my approach to the last because I knew there was scope to miss if it came undone and I knew I had to make a birdie to get home.
“The eagle putt wasn’t overly bold, but I was pretty nervous over that last little four-footer.
“I was pretty relieved to see that go in and yeah, that noise was fantastic.
“I love playing here, it really feels like home to me and somehow brings out my best.”
Today’s victory justifies her decision to return to her European playing roots after a couple of years of attempting to break on to the US LPGA Tour.
“I felt calm all week and pretty chilled out,” she said with a broad grin.
“I think when you’re happy in life you tend to play better golf and that was the case this week for me with so many great friends and supporters around.”