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Mar 8th, 2021

Ernst wins LPGA Drive On Championship

American stays strong to take third LPGA Tour title

Austin Ernst made four consecutive birdies on her opening nine in the final round of the LPGA Drive On Championship presented by Volvik to open a six-stroke lead. The American then battled her way home in challenging conditions to capture her third LPGA Tour title at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club.
These balls are really heavy!

“Going wire-to-wire is really cool. I told [my fiancé] Jason last night it would be really cool to win wire-to-wire, so glad I didn't jinx myself,” said Ernst, who closed with a final-round two-under 70.
“To be in the heat of it all week and to be able to perform the way I did, I think it’s a testament that I can do this week in and week out. If I have a little belief in myself, this is what I can do.”
Ernst and Jennifer Kupcho were both even through three holes but on the par-three 4th, Ernst buried a birdie while Kupcho took bogey. It was a two-shot swing that gave Ernst a three-stroke lead and all the momentum.
“I hit a good 50-degree wedge in then made a good putt and I was trying not to really focus on what she was doing,” Ernst said.
“I was aware all day of where we stood, knew it in my head but I just wanted to keep the pedal down. I did what I wanted to do all day. The conditions just got a little tougher at the end of the round.”

She added a birdie on No. 5 for a four-shot advantage and continued the birdie barrage on Nos. 6 and 7 to open a six-stroke gap between herself and Kupcho at 17-under par overall. From there, Ernst played the control game by managing the course and avoiding big numbers.
“After the birdie on five, I turned to [my brother and caddie] Drew and said, ‘I’ve got to stay aggressive and keep making birdies, keep being confident.’ I knew anything can happen on any hole. You can have those swings and if she got hot, I stalled out, I knew she could still catch me. I was just trying to separate myself by as many as possible and just ended up making a couple of bogeys on the back nine. She got a little closer to me than I would have liked.”
Now did I bring another shirt?!

The $225,000 winner’s cheque moves Ernst over the $4 million career earnings mark. She also becomes the third American to win (in as many events) on the LPGA Tour in 2021, joining Jessica Korda at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and Nelly Korda at Gainbridge LPGA.
Kupcho made a stellar effort on Sunday and even lined up an eagle putt on the 12th hole to get within two of the leader. the 12th is a tribute hole to the 13th at Augusta National Golf Club, the actual hole was a major turning point in the 2019 Augusta National Women’s Amateur that vaulted Kupcho to victory. She found the green with a three-hybrid for an eagle then and reached it with a four-hybrid on Sunday but had to settle for a birdie.
“I nearly played it the same as I did at Augusta, actually,” said Kupcho, signed for a two-over-par 74 in the final round.
“Obviously, missed my hybrid to the right instead of the left and thought the putt [here] was falling the whole way, just wrapped right around the hole. Really tough hole location to make a putt on for sure with where I was at.
“I set myself up well after 12 to be able to make a little bit of a move. I just missed a pretty easy up and down on 13, honestly, and missed the putt on 14. It was really close as well. But I didn’t really think it was over until I hit the tee shot on 15. Everyone hits bad shots. It’s just unfortunate that is when mine came for the week. I can’t look at that. There’s plenty of shots from the four days I could have made.”
Jenny Coleman fired a one-under-par 71 to take sole possession of third at eight-under-par overall and In Gee Chun closed with a three-under 69 to finish one shot back in fourth. Playing out of the final grouping, Albane Valenzuela rounded out the top-five players on the leaderboard at six-under overall following her closing 73.
England's Charley Hull closed with a two-under round of 70 that left her in a share of eighth place. Countrywoman Mel Reid finished on level for the tournament with Stephanie Meadow of Northern Ireland on one-over.


TAGS: LPGA Tour, Drive On Championship, Austin Ernst, Jennifer Kupcho, 2021