Kayla Mortellaro has shot lower scores, but facing the intense pressure of the final day of LPGA Tour qualifying school in Daytona Beach, Fla., the former Idaho Vandal put together one of her finest rounds.
Mortellaro shot a 5-under-par 67 Sunday on the Champions Course at LPGA International to finish tied for 11th and earn exempt status for the 2013 season. Former Washington State Cougar Kim Welch closed with a 68 and joined Mortellaro in a six-way tie for 11th.
Mortellaro and Welch completed five rounds in 4-under 356. Canada’s Rebecca Lee-Bentham (67) and Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn (74) shared first place at 13-under. The top 20 earned exempt status. Those finishing 21-45 receive conditional status.
“Theoretically it’s one of the most pressure-packed events, but I tried not to let the pressure bother me,” Mortellaro said in a phone interview. “I had no idea that I was in. It wasn’t until I got up to the 18th green and saw someone from the Golf Channel and a bunch of media that I realized something was up. It’s been a phenomenal four days.”
Mortellaro, 22, opened with a 7-over 79 and was near the back of the pack in the 119-player field. She bounced back with a pair of 69s, a 72 and a closing 67. She moved up 101 spots on the leaderboard after the first day. She was tied for 39th entering Sunday.
“I just got back to playing one shot at a time,” Mortellaro said. “The putter got hot, I made some good swings and I kept the ball in play.”
Welch, who was tied for the lead after a first-round 68, climbed 19 spots with her 68 on Sunday.
Mortellaro, from Phoenix, Ariz., won individual WAC championships in 2011 and 2012 and captured a school-record 10 tournament titles during her UI career. She was WAC player of the year three times. She’s believed to be the first Vandal to earn an LPGA Tour card.
“She handled the pressure extremely well and she’s not even at her best physically – she has a shoulder injury,” Idaho coach Lisa Johnson said. “She’s just so mentally tough.”
Welch, a four-time All-Pac-10 player who finished at WSU in 2005, won Golf Channel’s Big Break: Ka’anapali in 2008. Welch, from Sacramento, Calif., had a great finish to a week that began on a down note when someone broke into her car and stole her purse.
Graeme McDowell closed with a 4-under 68 on Sunday and held off Keegan Bradley with a pair of superb short-game shots that carried him to a three-shot win in the World Challenge at Thousand Oaks, Calif.
McDowell won for the first time since he beat Tiger Woods in a playoff at Sherwood to close out a dream season in 2010 that included his first major at the U.S. Open and the winning point for Europe at the Ryder Cup.
Bradley, who was within one shot after a birdie on the fifth hole, closed with a 69. Bo Van Pelt had a 70 to finish third.
Nedbank Golf Challenge
Martin Kaymer of Germany shot a 3-under 69 to earn his first title of 2012, holding on for a two-shot victory in rainy conditions at Sun City, South Africa.
Kaymer finished at 8-under 280, two ahead of Charl Schwartzel (69) of South Africa. Bill Haas of the United States was third after a 71.